Eugene wins ugly to open second half

Colin Rea

Eugene, OR: Even with their first playoff berth in 11 years in hand and the first half of the season behind them, the Eugene Emeralds are far from the team they hope to become by the end of the season.

"Winning ugly" was how manager Pat Murphy coined the Ems 6-2 win against the Everett Aquasox (16-23) on Tuesday night at PK Park, which featured four errors and sloppy base running.

One night after securing the Northwest League's Western Division title, a handful of regular starters were given the night off. But a three-run homer from Jose Dore erased struggles from players not usually in the starting lineup.

The Ems (25-14) are hoping that beginning the second half of the season with a win will help rejuvenate a team that has lost 10 of its last 14 games. For a team consisting largely of players of a young age, Murphy is preaching the importance of fundamentals, as he believes that will be key to turning around his team's performance.

It was evident that the Ems are in need of a crash-course after Murphy called the base running "atrocious," while the errors spoke for themselves.

"With our inexperience, we have to base run and play defense," he said. "If you don't hit, you just can't create hitters, but you got to base run and play defense. Those are the things I believe you can have an influence over.

"We're a couple players short to have a good defensive ball club, but when we get some players in—if we ever do—then I think we're capable of being a good defensive team and we're capable of base running well. If we do those two things, and with our pitching the way it's been, that at least gives us a fighting chance against the older ball clubs."

For Colin Rea, Tuesday's starting pitcher, his emergence into professional baseball has been in nearly flawless fashion—and on Tuesday, he growth as a big leaguer continued.

The 12th round pick in the 2011 MLB Draft, entered Tuesday with a 0.93 ERA. For the second half of the season, Rea's pitch count has been lessened because he has already pitched a full season while at Indiana State. Limited to three innings of work, Rea didn't allow a run while striking out three and lowering his ERA to 0.84.

"I just wanted to try to throw strikes, keep them off-balance, use all my pitches and get ahead," Rea said. "(Jeremy Rodriguez) did a great job of calling the game. I only shook him off once, so we were on the same page."

He had full command of his four pitches and elevated his fastball numerous times helping him earn 13 swinging strikes for his 39 pitches thrown.

"It helps to get out there and throw strikes," Rea said. "It keeps the defense awake. It helps a little bit to know you're only going three innings so you can go all out for three innings."

With four errors committed by each team, momentum swung back and forth throughout the game.

Any momentum gained after an error by Aquasox third baseman Ramon Morla, which allowed Justin Miller to reach first base, was lost when Miller was picked off—the second time an Ems runner was picked off on the night.

But they would regain it that same inning.

Clinging to a one-run lead, the Ems strung together a two-out rally with a pair of singles. Dore cleared the bases with a three-run home run—his third homer of the season—to extend the lead to 4-0.

"I'm just kind of in the zone," Dore said. "I know I've been struggling a little bit, but he gave me a pitch to handle and I took advantage of it."

The Ems bullpen, led by Mark Pope, squashed any hopes of a comeback while combining to pitch six innings and allowing just two runs.

Pope relieved Rea and threw three innings while not allowing a run and striking out four. Kyle Brule earned his first save of the season.

The bullpen did lose its leader, as closer Kevin Quackenbush was promoted to Class A Fort Wayne. Murphy said that Chris Wilkes will become the Ems new closer and Matthew Stites will also get opportunities to close.

On Wednesday, the Emeralds travel to Spokane for a five-game series against the Spokane Indians.

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