An unexpected late afternoon downpour threatened to halt the Fresno Grizzlies’ opening night.
But by the time the ceremonial first pitch of 2017 was tossed Thursday, the rain had vanished, gray skies turned light blue before darkening into the night and baseball was back at Chukchansi Park.
The 20th season of Grizzlies baseball.
I always get excited this time of year.
Fresno Grizzlies starting pitcher Brady Rodgers
“I always get excited this time of year,” said Grizzlies right-hander Brady Rodgers, the Pacific Coast League Pitcher of the Year last season and scheduled to pitch Game 2 on Friday.
In their third season as the Houston Astros’ Triple-A affiliate, the Grizzlies lost 13-6 to the Reno Aces before an announced crowd of 10,378.
But while the early wet weather might have scared off some fans and prevented a sellout at the downtown ballpark, Fresno rewarded those who did attend with quite the offensive showing.
With a lineup stacked top to bottom with accomplished Triple-A players and some with major league experience, the Grizzlies strung six straight hits before registering an out during the bottom of the first.
Teoscar Hernandez, rated the Astros’ eighth-best prospect, launched a three-run homer that erased a 3-0 deficit.
6 Consecutive hits compiled by the Fresno Grizzlies during the first inning before recording an out
By the end of the inning, the Grizzlies had seven hits and a 5-3 lead.
But then came trouble.
Collin McHugh, making a rehab start for Houston after experiencing a dead arm during spring training, was supposed to be on a pitch count of 85.
But after throwing 26 while allowing three runs in the first, McHugh made a couple of warmup pitches before the start of the second, asked for the trainer, and was removed from the game.
Houston Astros starting pitcher Collin McHugh lasted just one inning during a rehab start with the Fresno Grizzlies on Thursday.
McHugh gave up three hits and a walk, struck out one and threw 17 of the 26 pitches for strikes.
“He was complaining of tightness,” Grizzlies manager Tony DeFrancesco said, the issue later clarified as being in McHugh’s elbow. “So we took him out as a precautionary” move.
McHugh left the clubhouse before media members were allowed access. The Astros’ No. 3 starter headed back to Houston.
After his exit, Keegan Yuhl and Aaron West pitched the next four innings and combined to allow eight runs on nine hits and three walks.
The Grizzlies trailed 11-6 after six.
On the concourse, Grizzlies fans were welcomed by new signage along the concessions stands, as well as revamped food choices including gourmet signature hot dogs.
The Grizzlies signed on with a new food-service company during the offseason.
Some lines were long during pregame, but patrons seemed to be moving through swiftly.
By the end of the night, light rain had returned. But those who stayed till the end were treated to a fireworks show.
“Did you have fun?” a man asked a little boy as they walked back to their car.
“Yeah,” the boy answered. “Really fun.”
▪ Diane Carbray threw out the ceremonial first pitch.
John Carbray, Diane’s husband, spearheaded bringing Triple-A baseball to Fresno in 1997 then a downtown baseball stadium in 2002.
▪ PCL President Branch Rickey III attended the opener to commemorate the Grizzlies’ anniversary.
▪ Braden Shipley, who started for Reno, survived the rough first and finished the night allowing six runs on 11 hits. He struck out six without walking a batter.
Shipley, who played college baseball at Nevada, was the Diamondbacks’ No. 2 prospect in 2015.
▪ Outfielder Derek Fisher, the Astros’ No. 4 prospect, hit a solo home run off Shipley in the fourth.
Fisher, 24, is the Grizzlies’ lone position player who hasn’t spent the majority of a season in Triple-A. He did play 27 games with Fresno toward the end of last season and hit .290 with five homers and 17 RBIs.
▪ Francis Martes, the Astros’ top prospect, is scheduled to start Monday for the Grizzlies. The righty went 9-6 with a 3.30 ERA and 131 strikeouts in 125 1/3 innings for Double-A Corpus Christi last season.
RENO ACES AT FRESNO GRIZZLIES
- Series: 7:05 p.m. Friday and Saturday; 1:05 p.m. Sunday; and 6:35 p.m. Monday
- Records: Grizzlies 0-1, Aces 1-0
- Radio: KYNO (AM 1430)
- Of note: Grizzlies RH Brady Rodgers (12-4, 2.86 ERA in Triple-A last season) will face Aces LF Anthony Banda (4-4, 3.67 in Triple-A last season). Rodgers was named the PCL Pitcher of the Year last season. Banda is considered the top prospect in the Arizona Diamondbacks organization.