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Lenny DiNardo knows what it takes to be in the bigs again. He just has to try and adjust.
You see, usually by 31 years of age, a pitcher will start losing something off his fastball and may even need to retool himself to stay in the game he loves so much. This is that precise moment in time DiNardo is in, and River Cats pitching coach Scott Emerson is helping him down that bumpy road.
“He’s a different pitcher than he was 10 years ago,” Coach Emo said. “The velocity is a lot less, so he’s got to learn a different type of style. That style is throwing a bunch of strikes at the bottom of the zone and changing speeds.”
On Thursday evening at Raley Field, DiNardo was not able to keep the ball out of the prime hitting zones as the Tacoma Rainiers garnered 10 hits off the Cats starter — eight of them singles — en route to an 8-4 loss.
The Cats etched the first runs on the board on a warm 80-degree evening when Sacramento’s shortstop Eric Sogard took a 1-0 pitch into right for a clean double to lead off the bottom of the first. Josh Donaldson was then safe at first on a perfect bunt that slowly rolled past Rainiers pitcher Chris Seddon. During Kevin Kouzmanoff’s at-bat, Donaldson took off for second. Tacoma catcher Josh Bard threw the ball into center field which allowed Sogard to score from third giving the Cats an early 1-0 lead.
After Kouzmanoff’s walk, the rest of the lineup went down quietly.
In the second, the Rainiers had three of their first five batters get on base with singles. The last one by center fielder Michael Saunders plated Mike Wilson to tie the game.
Tacoma really started hitting the ball hard off DiNardo in the third. After getting the first two batters out easily, the visiting team unloaded on him. A double by Alex Liddi was the shot that temporarily opened the flood gates. The next hitter, Luis Antonio Jimenez, torched a ball down the right field line that hit the bag and bounced over Anthony Recker’s head. It rolled down the line and Liddi scored on the play. Hot-hitting Mike Wilson lifted a full-count pitch over the wall in left that bounced off the Raley sign and bounced back over the fence. The high-velocity shot scored Jimenez and put the Rainiers ahead 3-1.
After getting out of the jam in the third, DiNardo was still ripe for the picking in the fourth as lead-off hitter Matt Tuiasosopo worked the count and finally took the ninth pitch he saw from the Cats starter over the short Sutter Health wall in front of the River Cat bullpen.
Sacramento finally bust out some heavy lumber in the bottom of the fourth.
After a pop-out from Recker, Adrian Cardenas took a base on balls to bring up Matt Carson. Carson knocked his 13th homer of the season over the wall in left that hit the clubhouse. After the shot by Carson, the Cats trailed 5-3.
Carson has really been in a groove lately. With five homers in his last 10 games, the 29-year-old from Newport Beach is doing his part in trying to make his way back to the bigs. And seeing some of his teammates getting the call is keeping him positive about the situation and not the other way around.
“Obviously, this is not where any of us wants to be,” said a candid but smiling Carson on his way off the field. “We want to be in the major leagues, but to see guys get to get the opportunity to go up there (Oakland) — some of the guys have never been up there — it’s actually pretty cool.”
Carson also thinks that a good chunk of this River Cats lineup has something to offer a big league club. And that would be sooner than later.
“There is no one on this team that you think, man, why is that guy up here? But with this team, and anybody who goes up there, you’re just thrilled for them because they’ve worked their butt off and they’re good baseball players.”
Tacoma got to DiNardo again in the sixth. Wilson, who singled to lead off the frame, scored on Saunders’ single a few batters later. Saunders then scored on Sean Kazmar’s single, which was followed shortly thereafter by another single by Matt Mangini.
In total, the Rainiers scratched out five singles and scored three runs in the inning. That was enough for Manager Darren Bush to make that long walk to the mound to pull his starter and replace him with Fautino De Los Santos.
After the dust settled, the Cats found themselves down 8-3 after five and half.
The later part of the game went by quickly. Cats reliever De Los Santos was dealing as he had five strikeouts in 1.2 innings of work. That’s right. In between the two hits he gave up, he struck out every other batter he faced.
Emerson spoke about what the fireball reliever is missing in his run at making a major league roster.
“He’s definitely a power pitcher with an improved breaking ball,” Emerson said. “Once we can get that location down and maybe he can cut his pitches down (he'll be okay). Strikeouts are great, but balls in play are better for outs, especially as a reliever. So you can be fresh for the next couple of days.”
Kouzmanoff, who was playing in his first game for Sacramento since being sent down to work on his game, homered to lead off the eighth to get the Cats to within four.
Even though this is the first time he has experienced being sent down, he sure has a great attitude about it.
“It’s a learning process,” the third baseman said. “I’m learning as we go. I plan on helping the team win and keep working hard. That’s all I can do.”