Pickles win a new way
With Tuesday's 7-4 victory over the Yakima Valley Pippins at Walker Stadium, the Portland Pickles have won seven of their last eight games.
This one veered off the usual script, however.
The Pickles did not benefit from a strong start on the mound, nor did they build an early lead.
Portland, whose 7-2 record is the best in the West Coast League, used different ways to win the first of a three-game series.
Each scoring inning was fueled by free passes from the Pippins' pitchers. The visitors walked 10 and led off four innings with a base on balls — three of which turned into runs.
The Pickles finished with six hits and five strikeouts.
A reliever nailed down the win in front of the announced crowd of 1,077. Left-hander Michael Newstrom (Washington State) struck out 10 batters over four innings, including eight straight between the sixth and eighth frames.
"That kid has a ton of ability," Pickles manager Justin Barchus said. "He was fired up tonight, and we needed that big outing. Coming out of high school, the kid was one of the top two pitchers in the state of Washington. It's there. There's no doubt about it."
Barchus also showed some color for the first time this season.
The Pickles broke a 4-4 tie in the sixth with an RBI single from catcher Noah Cardenas (UCLA). He took second base on the ensuing at-bat on a passed ball, prompting Yakima Valley to intentionally walk leadoff hitter Gio Diaz (St. Mary's) to load the bases.
Standing on third with two out, right fielder Davis Delorefice (Utah) attempted to advance home on another passed ball, then reversed course back to third base. Cardenas got caught in the middle but headed back to second and appeared to slide under the tag on a throw from the catcher.
The base umpire thought otherwise, prompting Barchus, also a strength and conditioning coach, to bolt out of the dugout at full speed.
Barchus, even-tempered, used hand gestures to register his displeasure as opposed to the anticipated kicking and screaming. Half an inning later, he returned to the field to take up the issue with the home plate umpire.
"We shouldn't have put ourselves in that situation, but I saw it differently than he did and went out and had a conversation in a very respectful manner," Barchus said. "We just agreed to disagree. I was pretty upset at the time, but our guys gained the momentum back."
A pair of two-out walks and a hit batter set up a two-RBI single from Delorefice in the seventh and gave Newstrom some cushion.
After building a 3-0 lead in the first, Pickles starter Colin Suter (Gonzaga) allowed a two-RBI single in the next inning. Suter, a freshman right-hander, struggled with his command, walking four in his first two innings and throwing 59 pitches.
Diaz powered an RBI double to right center in the bottom half, but the Pippins responded. They tied the game at 4-4 in the third off a two-run homer from cleanup hitter Sam Mitchell.
Aside from its pair of losses, the early adversity marked the first time Portland had to regain a lead.
"They were a little shell-shocked initially, because we've had such good pitching, but then we settled in," Barchus said of his players. "Our hitters are catching their stride, and we're developing our identity offensively. We battled tonight, even in innings when it wasn't working for us."
Yakima Valley (6-4) recorded its lone three hits against Suter and did not touch the Pickles' bullpen.
Left-hander and third-year returnee Max Jones (Cal State Monterey Bay) made quick work of Yakima Valley in the fourth to set up Newstrom.
In contrast to the 6-5 Jones, who throws from a three-quarter arm slot and relies on movement, the 5-9 Newstrom came at the Pippins with a hard fastball-curveball combination.
Newstrom allowed one run in a pair of three-inning relief appearances before Tuesday's game, but struggled with walks and fastball command. At WSU, throwing consistent strikes was a problem as well for the freshman. He handed out 14 walks in as many innings.
Newstrom said confidence was never an issue. Pitching coach Zach Miller helped him adjust his mechanics after walking three straight batters on June 1 versus. Port Angeles. Rather than begin his delivery in a crouch, Miller had Newstrom stand upright, allowing for a smoother motion.
Miller and Newstrom also chart pitches together on days the Puyallup, Washington, native does not throw.
"I have a good idea of what he wants to call, and I talk to him about what I want to call in certain situations," Newstrom said. "He lets me have the reins in certain situations, and it's really good to have the pitcher-coach relationship we have."
Newstrom has also benefited from taking a step back from Pac-12 play, where he was used in short, high-stress situations out of the bullpen.
"I'm laser focused-in right now, but when I was at WSU, I struggled a bit when I had those shaky outings because I wasn't able to focus in," he said. "But that's what summer ball is for."
After Newstrom, Portland received another 1-2-3 ninth-inning performance from right-hander Brad Bonnenfant (Nevada). He struck out the side to claim his third save in as many opportunities.
Barchus said Bonnenfant, a soon-to-be senior, will continue to close ballgames for the Pickles.
"He's throwing smoke, and his curveball is as good as it gets at this level," Barchus said. "It's huge to have a guy at the back end who you trust like that. He's mature; he's played at the junior college level, he's played at the D1 level."
On offense, Portland again used the sacrifice bunt and stolen bases to advance runners after walks. Diaz stole his seventh base of the season in the fifth inning. Portland also advanced runners on three wild pitches.
A sacrifice bunt from first baseman Jace McKinney (University of Portland) set up Diaz's second-inning double.
Barchus said he is using the sacrifice bunt more often than in his first two years in the WCL. He managed the now-independent Gresham GreyWolves from 2016-2017 and said last year's team was more of a power-hitting group.
"This year, we have power, but I think it's gap-to-gap power. Getting guys in scoring position is big for us. With our pitching staff, that changes the way you play offense. When you only have to score three or four runs to win a ballgame, it changes the way you approach the plate."
Some of Portland's aggressiveness on the base paths backfired. In addition to the inning-ending rundown in the sixth, Diaz was caught stealing and thrown out attempting to stretch his second-inning double into a three-bagger.
Designated hitter Sam Novitske bunted into a double play in the seventh after he tripped coming out of the batter's box.
"We had a lot of runners in scoring position. We may have run ourselves out of a few innings," Barchus said. "But that's just being aggressive, and that's kind of the identity the team developed. Hopefully we can build off that and take a series."
Portland will attempt to win its fourth straight series at 7 p.m. Wednesday at Walker Stadium.
The Pickles are expected to start right-hander Joel Casillas (Cal State Northridge). Casillas, a freshman, threw three innings in a 7-2 win over the Cowlitz Black Bears on June 4. He surrendered two runs on three hits and struck out four.
Yakima Valley will counter with right-hander Matt Driver (2-0, 1.22).