BY STEPHEN LYNCH Special to The Californian
With its best starting pitcher going on the mound and a large contingent of home fans on hand for support, the Bakersfield Blaze appeared poised for a much-needed win on Friday night.
Unfortunately for the hosts, the Visalia Rawhide had other plans.
Powered by Michael Perez's first-inning three-run home run, the Rawhide downed the reeling Blaze 3-1 in front a season-high crowd of 1,563 at Sam Lynn Ballpark.
Four Blaze pitchers combined to hold the Rawhide offense to below its season average of 4.96 runs per game. But Bakersfield's lineup failed numerous times to cash in on scoring opportunities, stranding six runners on base. The Blaze had just four hits and were 1-for-6 with runners in scoring position.
The loss is the sixth in a row for the Blaze.
"We did a lot better," Blaze manager Ken Griffey Sr. said. "Pitching was pretty good. We didn't get the hits. Timely hitting wasn't as we needed but getting beat 3-1 compared to some of the other games...It's a tough loss period but at the same time I thought we played real well."
Arizona Diamondbacks top prospect Archie Bradley started on the mound for Visalia (14-8). A first-round draft pick in 2011, the flame-throwing right-hander with a 98-mph fastball allowed one run on four hits and two walks to earn the victory.
Bradley (2-0), who came into the game leading the California League in earned run average (1.14) and strikeouts (35), struck out eight.
Blaze ace Carlos Contreras took the loss, though he pitched well after giving up the early homer to Perez.
Contreras kept Bakersfield in the game by escaping a third-inning jam unscathed. After beaning Yazy Arbel for the second time in the game, putting runners on first and second with one out, the 22-year old right-hander got Perez to ground into a double play.
Despite not allowing any runs after the open frame, Contreras was pulled after four innings. The 5-foot-11, 207-pound right-hander surrendered four hits and one walk while recording three strike outs.
Ryan Wright went 2-for-4 and knocked in Bakersfield's only run with a third-inning line drive single to left field.
Juan Perez, who doubled just in front of Wright, was running on the play and scored from second base, narrowly avoiding a tag at the plate of Visalia catcher Michael Perez.
The setback comes on the heels of a 2-5 road trip by the Blaze.
Bakersfield (5-17) is currently on pace to win 32 games this season, a franchise low.
Griffey said that he is doing everything he can to help cure the Blaze early-season woes.
"We're out here working out," Griffey said. "We're doing as much as possible to do things the right way. We want to do the fundamentals right and all that. It's just one of those things. We're not getting the job done."