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Helmis Rodriguez pitches Tri-City past Indians

Helmis Rodriguez watched the Spokane Indians unload for 16 runs against his Tri-City Dust Devils on Tuesday.

On Wednesday, it seemed as if the Indians barely had 16 swings of the bat against Rodriguez.

The crafty left-hander from Venezuela took over the Northwest League’s earned-run average lead by pitching eight strong innings during a 3-1 win over the Indians at Avista Stadium.

Rodriguez (3-2, 1.67) needed just 77 pitches to make it through eight innings. He allowed five hits and one earned run, walking none and striking out one. His effort came one night after Spokane opened the three-game series with season highs for runs and hits (19) in a game.

“The approach today was to throw down in the zone, keep the ball down and throw the first pitch as a strike,” Rodriguez said with interpreting help from Marco Derkes, whose two-out solo homer in the ninth gave the Dust Devils their two-run cushion. … “You don’t need a lot of velocity if you throw the first pitch for a strike.”

“We (faced) four (pitches) in the fifth and five in the sixth,” Indians manager Tim Hulett said. “When you let a guy get out of innings that quick, he doesn’t have to work to make pitches. He probably would have been out of the game sooner if we had taken a few more pitches and we would have faced their relief corps a little bit more.”

The Indians loaded the bases against reliever Scott Firth with two outs in the ninth, but first-pitch-swinging Zach Cone flew out to center field to end the game.

“I felt fine to go the ninth inning, but it was the manager’s decision and I’m fine with that,” Rodriguez said.

Spokane lost for just the third time in 14 games at Avista. The Indians (18-8) maintained their three-game lead in the North Division when Vancouver (15-11) lost to Everett 9-4.

There are 12 games left in the first half of the season. First-half champions automatically make the league playoffs.

The one run against Rodriguez, Marcus Greene’s second-inning homer to right field, hit the top of the wall and bounced into The Depot, carrying right fielder Ryan Garvey’s glove with it.

Cone, the next batter, hit a screaming liner toward the line in right that Garvey nabbed with a superb dive. Indians personnel said after the game that the play would be on ESPN SportsCenter’s Top 10. Garvey’s father Steve, the 1974 National League Most Valuable Player with the Los Angeles Dodgers, was in attendance at Avista.

Indians starter Nick Gardewine was pulled for precautionary reasons after two innings and 49 pitches. He took Dillon Thomas’ liner to his right hip with one out in the second.

The Dust Devils (11-15) tied the game at 1 in the sixth when center fielder Cone dropped Thomas’ two-out fly with Francisco Sosa on second base. Hulett said that Cone’s view may have been blocked by the sun at the last moment.

Miguel Dilone’s one-out RBI double down the right-field line snapped the tie in the eighth.

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