I thought (our pitchers) did a good job when they had to and our offense swung the bats and ran the bases really well. It was just a good team win. —Salt Lake manager Keith Johnson
SALT LAKE CITY – At Bees media day, held Monday afternoon at Smith’s Ballpark, Salt Lake manager Keith Johnson promised fans a different brand of baseball this season, different from the small-ball-heavy approach that has defined the club the past few years.
“We have the three-run homer in our lineup this year, which is something that has been missing for a little while,” said Johnson. “We have guys that can drive the ball into the gap and out of the ballpark. It is going to be fun to watch.”
As it turns out, old habits die hard.
Fortunately for the Bees, the small-ball approach was good for 72 wins last season, and Thursday night in the season opener it proved good for another.
Led by catcher Jose Briceno, who finished 3-for-3 with two RBIs, and designated hitter Jabari Blash, who was 2-for-3 with three runs scored and two RBIs, the Bees defeated the visiting Albuquerque Isotopes 9-3.
“We played awesome,” Johnson said. “It was good to see. I thought (our pitchers) did a good job when they had to and our offense swung the bats and ran the bases really well. It was just a good team win.”
Center fielder and Los Angeles Angels top-ten prospect Michael Hermosillo scored the first run of the season for Salt Lake, on a passed ball in the bottom of the first inning, but it was in the second inning that the Bees did most of their damage.
The hosts scored four runs in the frame, via singles, walks, errant throws and passed balls. Briceno played a key role in the stretch, driving in a run, stealing a base and scoring to boot.
Blash gave Bees fans a glimpse of what the offense may look like in the future when, in the sixth inning, he crushed a Keith Hessler offering over the left-field fence.
“It was good to get it out of the way the first day,” Blash said of his homer. “It was good to get the cobwebs outs.”
THIS IS HOME: BYU alum and relief pitcher Taylor Cole made his Bees debut. Cole entered the game in the top of the seventh inning and made quick work of the first two batters he faced, inducing a groundout from both Daniel Castro and Raimel Tapia.
Albuquerque left fielder David Dahl got to Cole, singling to center (Dahl subsequently stole second base) and right fielder Noel Cuevas drew a walk, but Cole managed to escape the inning unscathed when he got first baseman Jordan Patterson to pop out to third base to end the inning.
Cole was practically flawless in the eighth inning, however, striking out two Isotope batters and getting another to fly out to left field for a quick one-two-three inning.
“I’m sure there were a little bit of jitters, but I thought he threw the ball really well,” said Johnson. “He got into a little bit of trouble but when he had to, he made some pitches.”
NO NEWS IS BAD NEWS: Albuquerque starting pitcher Yency Almonte lasted all of one inning in the contest, through no fault of his own. After totaling just 16 pitches, Almonte suffered an undisclosed injury and was swiftly removed from the game. He was replaced by reliever DJ Johnson, who gave up five runs on six hits in two and two-thirds innings.
Bees 9, Isotopes 3
In short: Jose Briceno and Jabari Blash combined to go 5-for-6 with four RBIs and four runs scored.
Up next: Albuquerque (RHP Matt Flemer, 0-0, 0.00) at Salt Lake (RHP Nick Tropeano, 0-0, 0.00), Friday, 6:35 p.m.