Aces battle but lose 9-6 against Salt Lake |

Aces battle but lose 9-6 against Salt Lake

Thomas Ranson / Tribune News Service

RENO ” Josh Whitesell’s making a strong case toward another invitation with the Arizona Diamondbacks.

After a professional stint last season, the 27-year-old Redlands, Calif., native created history as he hit Reno’s first home run and grand slam at Aces Ballpark, despite the Aces losing 9-6 in front of 9,013 fans Saturday night against the Salt Lake Bees.

“Today I was, more or less, trying to find my groove,” said Whitesell, who played in seven games last year for Arizona. “It’s kind of cool getting that first one (home run) out of the way. The first one’s always the hardest to get.”

Whitesell hit the third pitch he saw, a slider, from Jalien Peguero in the seventh inning into the Bees’ bullpen behind right field. It was the Aces’ first grand slam of the season and Whitesell’s second home run of the game.

The grand slam put an end to the Bees’ nine unanswered runs after Whitesell hit a two-run blast in the second inning off starter Dan Denham. Denham picked up the win, going six innings and recording three strikeouts.

“The first one (pitch) I was reacting to and the second I was looking for,” Whitesell said of his first two home runs of the season. “When you go up to the plate, I stay within myself and try to put a good swing on the ball. I just go out every day with good preparation and work hard. I want to be consistent and on top of my game.”

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Aces skipper Brett Butler said Whitesell was overswinging but has been working on simplifying his swing.

“Early on, he started out overswinging. The last few days, he’s gone over simplicities,” Butler said.

Salt Lake (6-3), though, took advantage of the Aces’ pitchers leaving balls up in the strike zone, something Reno (4-5) benefited from in the series opener Friday.

After a strong outing against Colorado Springs last week, Aces’ starter Cesar Valdez struggled, giving up six earned runs in three innings.

“He’s going to be very effective and win a lot of games,” Butler said of Valdez. “He could have gotten rattled (by the home runs), but it builds character. The only way to be successful at times is to fail.”

Salt Lake, however, countered Whitesell’s first historic blast with two solo home runs over the 20-foot tall, leftfield wall in the second inning.

Brandon Wood’s one-out bomb almost exited the stadium, while Bobby Wilson’s two-out dinger hit off the scoreboard.

With runners on first and second, Chris Wilson hit an opposite-field double down the right-field line off Valdez, scoring Reggie Willits to break the 2-2 tie in the third inning. One run scored on Matthew Brown’s infield single, but a bobble by third baseman Rusty Ryal allowed another run to cross the plate. Wood continued his power surge with a one-run double into left field, capping the four-run inning.

The Bees added three more in the sixth inning thanks to a two-run single by Brad Coon and a sac fly by Willits.

Right-hand reliever Tom “Flash” Gordon will make today’s start (1:05) against the Bees’ Brad Knox (1-0, 4.26 ERA). Gordon, who pitched for the World Champion Philadelphia Phillies last year, was placed on the Diamondbacks’ disabled list earlier this month … Few tickets still remain for today’s contest as the first 8,000 will receive a magnet schedule. The next promotion isn’t until Thursday when Reno hosts Colorado Springs.