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Vancouver Canadians open the season with a win

The Vancouver Canadians opened their 2016 short-season last night in Spokane with a 5-3 victory over the Indians

Justin Maese warms up for his first start in a Canadians uniform.
Justin Maese warms up for his first start in a Canadians uniform.
Eric Elliott

With the draft now in the past, the minor league's short season has officially begun with the Vancouver Canadians traveling to Spokane to start their season. In a back and forth match, the Canadians found a win, defeating the Indians 5-3.

Getting the start for the Canadians was Justin Maese who ranks 9th on the Blue Jays prospects list, according to Baseball America. After spending last season lighting up in Bluefield for the Jays low-A short season Blue Jays, pitching to a 1.08 ERA in 35.2 innings pitched, many had Maese pegged for Lansing this year in what would be a big step for the young right hander.

Instead, the 19-year-old made his way to Vancouver for a short-season with the chance at promotion into the upper echelons of the minor leagues. If Friday's start is any indication, he could be making several significant jumps this season.

Maese started the game, getting a feel for his opposition while throwing his sinking fastball and generating weak contact from Spokane hitters. The sinking fastball is a free-and-easy 93-95 mph that he can locate anywhere in the strike zone. That said, he also mixes his other pitches--slider and change-up--effectively from the outset to keep hitters off balance.

The result was simple for Maese: nine up, nine down with four strikeouts and four ground ball outs. By the 4th inning, Maese was smart enough to understand that the Indians had seen all his off-speed pitches so he changed things up and went back to his bread and butter.

"I noticed I was throwing all my pitches in the first three innings and my thoughts were, everyone has already seen my pitches so I just go back to doing what I do best which is just stick to the sinker and let them hit it," he said after Friday's game.

That approach seemed to work as the Indians managed just two hits--a double to the gap and a bloop single--for the remainder of Maese's outing. By night's end, his line manifest an impressive debut at 5 innings pitched, allowing one run on two hits while striking out six and walking none.

New Manager John Tamargo Jr. was remarkably impressed with Maese's debut to the season.

"He's got poise, he throws strikes for a young guy and commands all three pitches so he's a tremendous athlete," he said. "He throws strikes so any pitch that he throws up there, it's going to be a strike and he competes and battles every time you see him out there."

Offensively the Canadians were quieted by Michael Matuella, a Texas Rangers' top prospect, to start the game but managed to touch up his replacement Kevin Lenik for two runs thanks to a two-run double by Deiferson Barreto in the top half of the 4th inning.

The score would remain 2-1 until Spokane put up a crooked number--as Buck Martinez and Pat Tabler would say--to make it 3-2 heading into the 9th inning. The Canadians fought back with hits from D.J McKnight and Yelstin Gudino, followed by back-to-back doubles off the bats of Christian Williams and Gabriel Clark to make it 5-3.

The Indians' faithful would go home disappointed as the home team was unable to rally in the 9th and finalize the comeback.

For Tamargo, the equation to continue adding games to the win column is simple.

"Play a game like that," he said. "Swung the bats well, played good defensively and pitched well. If we give up three runs a game we're going to win a lot of ball games."

Saturday's game against the Indians will start at 6:30 Pacific Time with Dalton Rodriguez getting the start for the Canadians.