May 23—When the pandemic wiped out the 2020 minor league baseball season, it took away a much-needed year of development for prospects across baseball. In the third week of 2021 season, starting pitchers are still trying to build arm strength and establish fastball command as they work their way into “game shape.”
The pitching matchup at Avista Stadium on Saturday was as intriguing as it gets at the High-A level featuring a pair of highly-regarded second-round draft picks from Division I programs: righty Chris McMahon for the home team; lefty Brandon Williamson for the visitors.
McMahon, the former Miami Hurricanes hurler selected by the Colorado Rockies in the 2020 draft and their No. 8 prospect, was making his fourth professional appearance. Williamson, the Seattle Mariners No. 10 prospect taken in the 2019 draft, was making his 12th.
The weather didn’t help things at the start, as wind and rain hindered the proceedings, but as the skies calmed both pitchers settled into a good groove.
Brenton Doyle hit a three-run homer in the third, LJ Hatch added a two-run single in the fifth and the Spokane Indians dug their way out of a 5-0 hole to beat the Everett AquaSox 7-5.
The Indians (6-11) have beaten the now tied-for-first-place AquaSox (11-6) four out of the last five games.
McMahon was happy to earn his first win as a pro.
“The guys came back behind me, got some runs back,” he said. “Big home run by Brenton, trying to put me right back into it. I said, ‘Alright, we’re only down two now, you still got to keep pitching.’ So, yeah, that turned out to be a good one.”
Manager Scott Little valued McMahon’s effort, despite his young hurler’s challenges.
“They didn’t really crush him, and he kept pitching,” Little said. “He kept us in the dang ballgame.”
McMahon struggled early but settled in to earn his first win. He went six innings and allowed five runs, four earned, on six hits and three walks with four strikeouts. He threw 57 of his 91 pitches for strikes.
“They’re all learning lessons. This is great learning opportunities for these kids,” Little said. “It’s only going to make him better, I hope.”
After the world’s shortest rain delay of 15 minutes, play started with a stiff breeze blowing in and intermittent showers. McMahon found trouble right away as with one down in the first he hit Julio Rodriguez and walked Austin Shenton. The defense couldn’t convert a double play, and a single by Carter Bins plated Rodriguez from third.
Everett scored again in the second. With one down, Connor Hoover walked, went to second on a flyout, and came around on an error by shortstop Eddy Diaz.
Shenton singled to start the third and scored easily on a double by Kaden Polcovich. Later in the inning with two on, David Sheaffer hit a liner to left that skidded in the wet grass past Johnny Cresto that went for an RBI triple and the AquaSox led 5-0.
“I just didn’t really have a feel for much,” McMahon said. “Those first two-three innings I got my myself in some counts where I just had to put the ball over the plate. Obviously they put good swings on some, got barrels on it.”
Spokane got back into it in the bottom half as a hit-by-pitch extended the inning for Brenton Doyle, who mashed a no-doubt three-run blast to left center — the first three runs of the year allowed by Williamson.
“We were thinking, ‘Man, we got to get up there and we got to put a bunch of stuff together and maybe they’ll walk us, maybe hit us like they did that one game, and get a big inning,” Little said. “But then, then all sudden, bam, big man steps up there and smokes one, crushes it and we’re back in the ballgame.”
“I feel like after that hit momentum definitely bounced back a lot towards our favor,” Doyle said. “Definitely sparked a little energy in the guys and ended up being a good win for us.”
With the wind blowing in, it took a loud hit to get one out early.
“(Doyle)’s as powerful as anybody is. Period,” Little said.
McMahon looked better the longer his outing went, recording 1-2-3 innings in the fourth and fifth, picking up a pair of Ks in the latter.
“After the first three innings, to still go the full six felt pretty good,” McMahon said.
Doyle’s double to left center in the fifth chased Williamson one out shy of qualifying for the win. Williamson allowed three runs on four hits and two walks with nine strikeouts.
Reliever Blake Townsend walked Michael Toglia and hit Hunter Stovall to load the bases and a wild pitch allowed Doyle to scamper home to make it a one-run game. Townsend hit Cresto to reload the bases and LJ Hatch’s line-drive single to center gave Spokane its first lead of the game.
“It was a huge hit,” Little said of Hatch’s poke. “He’s one of the most important players on our team. He’s just a great teammate, he’s a team leader and despite the fact that he doesn’t play as much as some of the other guys, you put him in the field and he catches the ball and makes plays and tonight he got the big hit.”
Hatch was caught leaning at first and was picked off, but not before Cresto carried the seventh run home.
“We just kept passing the bat to the next guy and they kept coming through,” Doyle said of the rally.
The six-game series concludes Sunday at 5:09 p.m. at Avista Stadium.