Rainiers begin league title defense with season-opening win over Salt Lake

·7 min read

The Tacoma Rainiers opened the season — and their league title defense — with more than a few fireworks Tuesday night.

Rainiers center fielder Taylor Trammell drove in the first run of the season in the first when he sent a double crashing off the middle of the green wall — which sits 425 feet away from home plate in center — to score Forrest Wall.

First baseman Zach Green then drove in Trammell moments later with a single back up the middle to provide an early edge. His double to the warning track in right center in the sixth later produced the game-winning run.

Tacoma Rainiers outfielder Taylor Trammell (10) gets high fives in the dugout after he scored on a Zach Green single in the top of the first inning of the season opener at Cheney Stadium in Tacoma, Wash., on Tuesday, April 5, 2022.
Tacoma Rainiers outfielder Taylor Trammell (10) gets high fives in the dugout after he scored on a Zach Green single in the top of the first inning of the season opener at Cheney Stadium in Tacoma, Wash., on Tuesday, April 5, 2022.

Right-hander Matt Koch then threw an immaculate inning in relief in the seventh, striking out each of the three batters he faced on three pitches.

Then catcher Josh Morgan launched the second pitch he saw leading off the bottom half of the frame well over the deck in left field and into the Foss High School parking lot.

Salt Lake never answered after that, and the Rainiers closed out a 4-2 win over the Angels’ Triple-A affiliate in the first game of the spring at Cheney Stadium.

“Very exciting,” first-year Tacoma manager Tim Federowicz said. “It was a good game all around.”

And the 4,368 fans in attendance on a crisp northwest night were rewarded with some more fireworks postgame.

Tacoma first-base coach Seth Mejias-Brean (17) holds his son, Beckett, as his wife, Haley, looks on during the post-game fireworks show after the season opener at Cheney Stadium in Tacoma, Wash., Tuesday, April 5, 2022. Tacoma beat the Salt Lake Bees, 4-2.
Tacoma first-base coach Seth Mejias-Brean (17) holds his son, Beckett, as his wife, Haley, looks on during the post-game fireworks show after the season opener at Cheney Stadium in Tacoma, Wash., Tuesday, April 5, 2022. Tacoma beat the Salt Lake Bees, 4-2.

So opened the minor league baseball season for last season’s Triple-A West champions, who picked up 78 wins last summer.

Six months later, they’ve added another win, and the first of the spring as their title defense begins.

“I think everybody has that same mindset of, we want to win, we want to be here, we want to do well for the guys that are coaching us, and obviously the people that are in the stands,” Trammell said.

“It’s always fun whenever we get to get a win like that. It’s just amazing.”

The early hits from Trammell and Green gave the Rainiers a lead they held until Salt Lake evened the score in the sixth.

Before that, Rainiers starter Darren McCaughan worked through five scoreless frames, and at one point retired nine consecutive batters.

Tacoma Rainiers starter Darren McCaughan (22) delivers a pitch to a Salt Lake Bees batter during the second inning of the season opener at Cheney Stadium in Tacoma, Wash., Tuesday, April 5, 2022.
Tacoma Rainiers starter Darren McCaughan (22) delivers a pitch to a Salt Lake Bees batter during the second inning of the season opener at Cheney Stadium in Tacoma, Wash., Tuesday, April 5, 2022.

But, the Bees finally responded in the sixth with back-to-back singles from Kean Wong and Brendon Davis to open the inning.

McCaughan exited with two outs and the lead after Orlando Martinez drove in Wong on an infield single, but Salt Lake scored again not long after on another infield base hit from Magneuris Sierra off reliever Kyle Bird that made it 2-2.

McCaughan completed 5 2/3 innings, allowing the two runs on seven hits while striking out five and walking two.

Bird struck out Luis Rengifo for the final out of the sixth, and earned the win for Tacoma.

Salt Lake didn’t score again, and Green’s second run-scoring hit of the evening gave the Rainiers the go-ahead run not long after.

Koch then struck out Matt Thaiss, Wong and Davis — all looking — on his nine pitches in the seventh.

“You could just see in his demeanor, he was out there on a mission,” Federowicz said.

It was the first immaculate inning thrown by a Rainiers pitcher since Penn Murfee accomplished the same in August.

Morgan’s home run in the bottom half of the inning padded the lead, and Murfee pitched the final two scoreless innings, striking out five and walking two to pick up the save.

Tacoma catcher Josh Morgan (3) gets a high five as he walks through the dugout after hitting a solo home run to give the Rainiers a 4-2 lead in the bottom of the seventh inning during the season opener against the Salt Lake Bees at Cheney Stadium in Tacoma, Wash., Tuesday, April 5, 2022.
Tacoma catcher Josh Morgan (3) gets a high five as he walks through the dugout after hitting a solo home run to give the Rainiers a 4-2 lead in the bottom of the seventh inning during the season opener against the Salt Lake Bees at Cheney Stadium in Tacoma, Wash., Tuesday, April 5, 2022.

“I think we did a really good job this game of having some adversity, a little bit of it, and then fighting back,” Trammell said. “Our pitching staff did an amazing job. The hitters came up with timely hits.”

Salt Lake Bees starter Janson Junk delivers a pitch to a Tacoma batter during the bottom of the first inning of the season opener at Cheney Stadium in Tacoma, Wash., Tuesday, April 5, 2022. Junk, who graduated from Decatur High School in Federal Way, allowed 2 runs on five hits in 3 2/3 innings pitched.
Salt Lake Bees starter Janson Junk delivers a pitch to a Tacoma batter during the bottom of the first inning of the season opener at Cheney Stadium in Tacoma, Wash., Tuesday, April 5, 2022. Junk, who graduated from Decatur High School in Federal Way, allowed 2 runs on five hits in 3 2/3 innings pitched.

HOMECOMING FOR LOCAL PITCHER

Former Decatur High School standout Janson Junk made his professional Cheney Stadium debut Tuesday night.

“It was pretty cool,” Junk said. “I had a lot of family out. I threw here when I was in high school, just for travel ball, but coming here is definitely nice.

“I’ve been on the East Coast so much … getting an opportunity to pitch at home just makes the moment that much cooler.”

Junk started for the Bees, completing 3 2/3 innings, and allowing two runs on five hits. He struck out three, including the final batter he faced in the fourth, and retired seven of his last eight.

“After that (first) inning, I kind of re-centered myself and just focused on throwing up the zone,” he said. “I had much more success after that first inning, so I was happy about two, three and the start of the fourth.”

When he reached his pitch count in the fourth — he threw 72, including 48 strikes — the 26-year-old right-hander received a cheer from family and friends in the stands behind Salt Lake’s dugout.

“It was great to have them out here and support me,” he said.

Junk was a four-year starter at Decatur from 2011-14, and helped the Gators reach the Class 3A state quarterfinals his junior season — which was the program’s first appearance in the state playoffs since 1999.

He pitched for three seasons at Seattle U before he was drafted by the Yankees in the 22nd round in 2017. After three-plus seasons in New York’s organization, he was traded to the Angels in July and made his big league debut Sept. 5 against the Rangers.

Junk started four games for the Angels last season, posting a 3.86 ERA across 16 1/3 frames and striking out 10 while walking two.

“Just taking the moment in,” he said of his first big league experience. “The biggest thing for me is knowing my stuff is good enough, and just trusting my ability. Don’t try to do too much, and just focus on one pitch at a time and execute to the best of my ability on that one pitch. Other than that, pitching at that level, just knowing you can get big league hitters out was the biggest thing.

“Coming down to Salt Lake, (it’s a) great opportunity to keep doing that, and work on myself and my abilities, and just wait for that call. In the meantime, I’m going to go out here every fifth, sixth day and pitch to the best of my abilities.”

Entering the season, he held an 18-17 record in four seasons in the minors in 69 games (46 starts) with a 3.87 ERA and 259 strikeouts to 106 walks.

He was 6-3 in 19 games (17 starts) last season between Double-A Somerset and Double-A Rocket City with a 2.81 ERA, 97 strikeouts and 27 walks.

Tacoma Rainiers manager Tim Federowicz talks with players in between innings during the season opener against the Salt Lake Bees at Cheney Stadium in Tacoma, Wash., Tuesday, April 5, 2022.
Tacoma Rainiers manager Tim Federowicz talks with players in between innings during the season opener against the Salt Lake Bees at Cheney Stadium in Tacoma, Wash., Tuesday, April 5, 2022.

FIRST WIN FOR FEDEROWICZ

Federowicz earned his first career coaching win in the opener after retiring from his playing career last winter.

“It’s awesome,” he said. “It’s pretty surreal. First year after playing last year, and first game this year.”

Federowicz was named Tacoma’s manager in December following his 13-season playing career, during which he appeared in 1,041 career games between the majors and minors from 2008-21.

The 34-year-old former catcher played parts of eight major league seasons for the Dodgers, Cubs, Giants, Astros, Reds and Rangers from 2011-19.

Federowicz replaces former Tacoma manager Kristopher Negron — a former Mariners and Rainiers utility player — who was the Triple-A West manager of the year last season and is now Seattle’s first base coach.

ON TAP

The Rainiers (1-0) host the Bees (0-1) at 6:05 p.m. Wednesday in the second game of their six-game opening homestand, which runs through Sunday. They are scheduled to send lefty Ian McKinney to the mound, while left-hander Ryan Smith is Salt Lake’s listed starter.

Tacoma hits the road for a six-game set in Albuquerque next week, before returning home on April 19 for six games against Sugar Land.

Staff writer Tyler Wicke contributed to this report.