In a season full of call ups and injuries, the 51s have been staring at the wrong side of .500 since April.
But recently, they’ve been playing better, thanks to solid outings from their starters and timely hitting from their offense.
That was on display once again on Tuesday as they won the sixth of their last eight games, beating the Tacoma Rainiers 3-2 at Cheney Stadium in Tacoma, Washington, in the second game of the four-game set.
“I thought (starter P.J.) Conlon did an excellent job,” manager Tony DeFrancesco said. “He was in control the whole game. He gave us a chance (and) we got some big hits late in the game.”
The 51s (34-44), after being shutout for the first seven innings of the game, got the offense they needed in the eighth inning, scoring all three of their runs.
A Zach Borenstein sacrifice fly tied the game at 1-1 before a Patrick Kivlehan RBI double gave the 51s their first lead of the game and a Ty Kelly groundout plated Peter Alonso to give Las Vegas an insurance run.
The Rainiers (41-37) had been leading since the fifth inning when they scored the first run of the game on a Gordon Beckham sacrifice fly.
They added one run in the eighth inning after Matt Purke loaded the bases on a pair of walks and an error.
Purke was replaced by Jacob Rhame, who got the first batter he faced to bounce in to a double play. A run scored on the play, but Rhame was able to limit the damage otherwise, throwing a scoreless eighth and ninth for his eighth save of the season.
The righty, who has been back and forth between the majors and Triple-A all season, has now tossed six scoreless innings since he last returned.
“I just think he’s more focused right now. He came down here with a purpose this time. He’s been up and down at least four, five times and I think he wants to make sure that next time he goes up that he’s ready to stay up there and his stuff is starting to play well,” DeFrancesco said. “He’s
got confidence and hopefully it’ll translate to his next call up.”
Like Rhame, Kivlehan has also been a bright spot as of late for the 51s. Tuesday, he paced the 51s’ offense, going 4-for-4 on the night with three doubles and an RBI. In the past 10 days, he has raised his batting average from .236 to .271.
“(Hitting coach Joel Chimelis) has been working with his swing, trying to be a little bit shorter to the ball and trying to get the length out of it and he’s been doing a good job,” DeFrancesco said.
For the second straight game, Conlon turned in a quality start, tossing six innings and giving up just one run on three hits.
“I think he’s learning how to change pitches. He’s using his changeup more,” DeFrancesco said. “He was more aggressive, good tempo going in.”
His counterpart, Williams Perez, also pitched well, shutting down the 51s for the duration of his six-inning outing, but both wound up with no-decisions.
Before the 51s beat the Tacoma bullpen, the Rainers were 36-0 when leading after seven innings.
“That was the first time we’ve seen him. He was able to locate his fastball (and) change speeds,” DeFrancesco said of Perez. “He kind of shut us down for a few innings there but luckily we got to their bullpen.”