Rehab assignments brought three Major League players to the Biggest Little City in a 9-2 Aces loss to the Omaha Storm Chasers on Tuesday afternoon.
Dbacks’ southpaw Robbie Ray made his first Aces start since 2015, as 3,954 fans watched. Ray, 26, had six starts for Arizona before an oblique injury left him on the disabled list. A 12th round selection in the 2010 MLB draft, Ray has a 30-32 record, logging 490.5 innings with 600 strikeouts during his four-year tenure with the Diamondbacks. Ray had his best professional season last year, sporting a 15-5 record with a 2.89 ERA in 28 starts, enough to earn him a spot on the 2017 MLB All-Star team.
Ray’s nine strikeouts tied the Aces’ season-high in the loss. He pitched 4.1 innings, surrendering one earned run on three hits with one walk. Ray’s three-pitch mix of fastball, slider and curveball was electric. He touched 94 mph with his fastball, and his slider complemented the southpaw’s heat with break at the knees.
“I thought he threw the ball really well out there today,” Aces’ skipper Greg Gross said. “He looked free and easy. His last two innings were his best — he still had some life on the ball and that’s a good sign for him.”
Omaha countered with a pair of Kansas City sluggers, Jorge Bonifacio and Lucas Duda. Bonifacio exceeded expectations with the Royals in 2017, hitting .255 with 17 homers and 40 RBIs in 113 games. Bonifacio, 25, went 2-for-4 with two RBIs. Bonifacio is expected to be reinstated by the Royals June 27 after he was suspended 80 games for testing positive for a performance-enhancing drug.
Duda, who was placed on the 10-day disabled list due to a heel injury, batted in the cleanup spot for the Storm Chasers. Duda finished 2-for-5 with a double and towering blast over the Aces’ bullpen, driving-in three RBIs in the win. Known for his pop in his bat, Duda has 142 homers and 424 RBIs over his nine-year Major League career with the New York Mets and Kansas City Royals. He has four home runs in 37 games with the Royals this season.
Reno’s 11 hits only produced two runs in the loss.
Juniel Querecuto extended his hitting streak to nine games, finishing 2-for-4 with a run scored. Kristopher Negron went 3-for-4 with a double and RBI. Ildemaro Vargas collected his 300th career hit with the Aces, good for fifth all-time in Aces’ history. Catcher Anthony Recker finished 2-for-4. He’s hitting .322 with 10 homers and 32 RBIs this year.
Storm Chasers righty Scott Barlow pitched four innings, giving up two runs on five hits with six strikeouts. Reliever Luis Vasquez picked up his fourth win of the season, pitching 2.1 innings in relief with five strikeouts. Ex- Oakland A’s outfielder Billy Burns went 4-for-5 with two RBIs and two runs scored.
With the win, Omaha took three games of the four-game series. The Aces will travel to in-state rival Las Vegas to face the 51s June 21-24.
“It’s a good place to hit for us right now,” Gross said. “It’s going to be an interesting series on the offensive end. We just have to match them on both ends.”
Back-to-back RBI doubles from Evan Marzilli and Negron put the Aces up 2-1 in the second inning. The Storm Chasers answered with two runs in the third. Omaha opened the flood gates with a six-run seventh inning thanks to Burns’ two-RBI rip up the middle combined with Duda’s bomb, giving them a commanding 9-2 lead.
The Omaha bullpen got the job done from there with plenty of run support.
Brito named PCL Player of the Week: Aces’ outfielder Socrates Brito was named the Pacific Coast League’s Player of the Week from June 11-17. Brito is on a tear, going 15-for-25 (.600) with four homers 11 RBIs and 10 runs scored in that span. His 15 hits were most by a single player in the PCL. Brito made his season debut with Arizona on May 22, going 2-for-17 in eight games. He is leading the Aces in batting average (.352), runs scored (40), RBIs (36) and stolen bases (9)
Vargas’ hit streak snapped: Aces’ shortstop Ildemaro Vargas’ 16-game hit streak was snapped in Reno’s 6-4 loss to Omaha Monday. His streak is the longest for the Aces this year. During the streak, Vargas hit .387 with eight RBIs. He started a new one on Tuesday.
Notes: Kristopher Negron’s ninth inning triple in Monday’s 6-4 loss marked his 15th career triple with Reno, placing him third-all time in Aces’ history. … The Aces are 6-3 all-time in games played on June 19. The Aces and Storm Chasers combined for 26 strikeouts.
On Deck: The Aces (33-39) will travel to face in-state rival Las Vegas (29-42) Thursday. Dbacks’ top prospect Taylor Clarke is scheduled to face 51s’ southpaw P.J. Conlon. Reno will return home June 25 to kick-off a four-game series against the Salt Lake Bees, Triple-A affiliate of the Los Angeles Angels.
Wednesday transactions: Aces right-handed relief pitcher Jake Barrett was called up again to the Diamondbacks, who sent starting pitcher Matt Koch down to Reno. Barrett, 26, has been solid in Triple-A this season. He’s 3-0 with a 1.40 ERA with 36 strikeouts in 25.2 innings with 16 walks. He allowed two runs in four innings in his three games with the big club. Koch (5-4, 4.40 ERA) allowed two home runs, including one to the first batter he faced, in Tuesday’s loss to the Los Angeles Angels.
– Isaiah Burrows