Eight-run third leads ValleyCats to series-opening win

TROY — The ValleyCats continued their hot start on offense on Thursday night, carrying an eight-run third inning to a 9-3 victory over the Lowell Spinners.

Lowell had grabbed the first lead in the opening frame, but the Tri-City offense came roaring back in the third. The first two outs of the inning came rather quickly, but the ValleyCats rolled off five two-out hits with two more reaching on errors, scoring eight runs in the frame and chasing Lowell starter Brian Brown. Ramiro Rodriguez, Carlos Machado and Juan Pineda all had RBI singles, and the big hit of the inning was a two-run triple off the bat of Marty Costes that went into the left-center field gap. After the inning, the ValleyCats had a comfortable 8-1 advantage.

“I think it’s really come back to swing decisions. If you look at the third inning yesterday and the third inning today, it really wasn’t necessarily about the big hits all the time,” ValleyCats manager Jason Bell said. “Today, we got a couple lucky breaks and we stayed with good swing decisions. We didn’t try to do too much, we stayed with our plan and it worked out.”

The ValleyCats tacked on a ninth run in the fourth inning off of a long solo home run from Enmanuel Valdez. He had a great night, finishing 3-3 and reaching on error. He came a triple shy of hitting for the cycle.

“I went into the batters’ box looking for a good pitch and make good contact. That was my train of thought,” Valdez said through a translator. “We just come out to work hard every day and we like to see it translate on the field so we’re going to try to keep it going.”

On the other side of the ball, Tri-City starter Jose Hernandez was making his first appearance in baseball since 2016, which came with former Class A-advanced affiliate Lancaster JetHawks. He had Tommy John surgery and was making a rehab appearance Thursday. In two innings of work, Hernandez allowed one run on four hits, striking out three Lowell hitters.

“I’m so happy,” Hernandez said. “It’s a long process. One year of rehab, so just work and make progress every day to return to play baseball.”

After Hernandez was finished, the relief pitching impressed, allowing two runs on four hits in seven innings, striking out eight in a combination of Tim Hardy, Hansel Paulino and Juan Pablo Lopez. Hardy left the game after just facing four hitters due to a knee injury, but Bell said that it was just for precautionary measures.

The ValleyCats are now back above .500 for the first time since opening night, and the offense has really been clicking over the past two days.

“I think that was huge, and it really goes back to the first at-bat of the game. Left on left, that’s a tough at-bat for Valdez but he does well against lefties and righties and he kind of set the tone for the day. We didn’t score in the first inning but we still put pressure on them, we made them feel not very comfortable,” Bell said.

The second game of the series is set for Friday night at Joe Bruno Stadium, with the first pitch scheduled for 7 p.m. The probable starters are Carlos Hiraldo for Tri-City and Yorvin Pantoja for Lowell.

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