The Reno Aces played a winning hand on opening night.
Its pair of star hitters homered and the hometown hurler bluffed batters with a killer changeup as the defending Northern Division Pacific Coast League champions defeated the Fresno Grizzlies, 10-2, in front of 5,634 fans at Greater Nevada Field.
Fresno right fielder Alejandro Garcia is a Major League prospect but perhaps not the best poker player. His facial expression and body language gave away the story when both Christian Walker and Yasmany Tomas scorched shots over his head. The home runs led to a route for Arizona Diamondback’s Triple-A team in the Aces’ 10th season opener.
Walker, a first baseman who was last year’s PCL MVP, and Tomas, who is due $10 million this season from his multi-year Major League contract, made loud and long statements. Reno baseball fans: Catch them while you can.
The game opened with overcast skies and a tarp was rolled out before the first pitch. But the rain didn’t start until after former University of Nevada, Reno pitcher Braden Shipley had saturated the Grizzlies with commanding off-speed stuff. It was the right-hander’s second second-straight opening night start for the Aces, who are now 7-3 in season openers. In notching the win, Shipley went 5.1. innings, allowing seven hits and one earned run while fanning three Fresno batters.
The Aces jumped to a 7-0 lead in the second inning when Walker hit a high fastball over Garcia and the right field fence.
Earlier, center fielder Socrates Brito swatted a two-seam fastball right up the middle, scoring both Ildemaro Vargas and Jack Reinheimer. After just one inning of play, the Aces had a 2-0 lead.
For Fresno, starter Mike Hauschild’s outing on the mound didn’t last long. He went just 2.1 innings, giving up seven hits, three walks and seven earned runs. He was relieved of his duties by Andrew Thome during the third inning.
Tomas blasted a 362-foot bomb to tack-on another two-runs for the Aces, bumping Reno’s comfortable margin to 9-0 after the fourth inning. The Aces would continue to pour it on offensively, as Walker’s sacrifice fly tacked-on yet another run for Reno, which led 10-1 after six innings.
A sacrifice fly by Tony Kemp in the seventh inning was the last sight of the Fresno offense, as Reno coasted to a 10-2 opening day victory.
Postgame, skipper Greg Gross described the impact of the Aces’ first victory of the season.
“It was great to see our guys jump out to such an early lead,” he said. “That set us up for bigger things as the game went along. I thought Shipley did great, he used all his pitches and worked in his off-speed stuff. Overall, I’m happy to see the end result out there tonight.”
“I have been coming here to opening day for quite some time now,” said Reno Aces fan Darin Fain. “It’s really fan-friendly and the kids have a blast. Even I have a blast, because it brings out the kid in me!”
Tomas, who made his Aces’ debut has been quite the addition, Gross. said. The left fielder is in the fourth year of a $68.5 million contract with the Arizona Diamondbacks organization.
“He has been great with us,” he said. “He does his work in the outfield and at the plate and you can really see his improvement in those aspects. I hope to see it continue.”
For Fresno, key performers included: Drew Ferguson (3-4, 2B), Tyler White (1-3, RBI), and Houston Astros’ top prospect Kyle Tucker (2-4).
In the second game of the five-game homestand tonight, right-handers Taylor Clarke of Reno will face the Grizzlies Trent Thornton. Game time is 6:35 p.m. It will be Fireworks Friday and the game will be played, rain or shine.
– Isaiah Burrows