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Cats win fourth in a row behind Straily’s arm and grand slam from Hicks

Dan Straily was sent down three days ago to make room for the long-awaited return of Brett Anderson.

Straily did nothing wrong. In fact, he could be called back to the big club very soon.

And after his strong start in Sacramento on Thursday, that call could be very soon indeed.

Straily went five strong innings and helped the Sacramento River Cats win their fourth in a row by beating the Salt Lake Bees 6-3 at Raley Field on Thursday evening.

“He threw the ball well,” said Cats manager Darren Bush. “He moved the ball around, changed speeds and was aggressive. He looked good!”

The first couple of innings flew by for both teams. As for Straily, he even struck out the side in the second, doing his part in keeping the Bees at bay.

It wasn’t until the bottom of the third inning that the River Cats would scratch a run on the scoreboard.

Jermaine Mitchell led off the frame with a walk and, after a couple of quick outs, Brandon Inge, who is on a rehab assignment, ripped a line drive shot into center field for a double that plated Mitchell and gave the Cats the first lead of the game.

Bush was pleased with Inge’s performance in his first rehab start.

“Good ABs (at-bats),” said Bush. “He swung the bat well, just like he did last time he was down here with us. He did a good job tonight.”

Salt Lake came back in the top of the fourth when Andrew Romine led off with a single. Romine would later score on a two-out ground out by Efren Navarro to tie the score.

Straily started to find some trouble in the fifth when he gave up a lead-off double to Bees left fielder Ryan Langerhans. Matt Long sacrificed Langerhans to third, setting up the go-ahead run with only one out. The next up to bat, Doug Deeds, hit a liner to Grant Green at shortstop, but Green was able to make a great play and throw out Langerhans at home to keep the game tied at 1-1.

The Bees still ended up with the bags full of runners with two outs. After a brief coaching visit to the mound by pitching coach Scott Emerson, Straily settled in and got Kole Calhoun to fly out to left to end the threat.

After five strong, Straily made way for reliever Rich Thompson.

Thompson induced a ground out to the first batter he faced. But that was the end of the good news for him. After a walk to Navarro, Thompson gave up a long home run to catcher John Hester, which put the Bees on top 3-1.

The Cats opened the sixth by getting the first three base runners on and threatening with no outs. Inge walked, Kila Ka’aihue and Michael Taylor singled to load them up.

The press box has its own game during every River Cats contest. The names of all the offensive starters are put in a cup, and we draw out names. Whoever picks the name of the player that hits the last home run of the game gets all the cash in the cup that week.

As Brandon Hicks strolled to the plate, I looked at Casey Pratt of CSN Bay Area and showed him my Hicks “tag” that I had pulled from the cup before the game. I told Pratt that now was the time. And it was.

On a 2-2 pitch from Brad Mills, Hicks torched one over the left field wall for a Cats grand slam, giving me a three innings from the clubhouse lead in the “money in the cup” sweepstakes for the day.

Hicks has spent some time with the big club this season and could get another call if he keeps making contact as well as he did in this game.

“I thought he had great at-bats all night long,” said Bush. “Not just that at-bat. All four of his at-bats were quality ABs. The first two ABs he just missed. Good swings, good position. He’s done a good job.”

The scoring festivities weren’t over just yet for the Cats, as Wes Timmons scored on a single from Colin Cowgill that added to the run total in the sixth.

The Cats lead after the sixth was 6-3.

Sacramento relievers Justin Souza and Jeremy Accardo did their job in closing out the balance of the game and keeping the Bees off the scoreboard.

Straily wasn’t ecstatic about his start, but he did say it was one he could build off.

“I felt like I had below average fastball command,” said Straily. “It was kind of one of those deals on the one-day-a-week plan. I’m trying to get used to that. I feel like there is a lot of stuff to work on still. My fastball command — it never goes away — you’re always working on it.”

Straily had time to reflect on his first call up and his short time with the Oakland A’s. When I mentioned to him that he looked a lot like A.J. Griffin — calm, cool and collected — he instantly agreed.

“You nailed it right there,” said Straily. “I just went out there and just pitched. It’s one of those things I think you prepare for your entire professional career. You just have to remember that between the lines, it’s the exact same game. No different. I had a lot of fun and can’t wait to get back.”

Straily is only second behind Justin Verlander in total strikeouts in professional ball this season. With the pennant race coming up for the A’s, Straily should get a chance to be a big part of it.

On a side note, longtime River Cat and personal favorite of mine Graham Godfrey, along with Anthony Recker, have been designated for assignment. They will be on the open market for 10 days. If no one claims them in that amount of time, they have a chance of coming back to the organization. 

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