OGDEN — The Raptors needed a pair of dramatic late victories to take three of four games from the Missoula Osprey.
No late heroics were necessary in a 14-4 series-opening win over the Billings Mustangs on Friday at Lindquist Field.
Jesus Valdez homered, doubled, drove in four runs and scored twice while starter Lindsey Caughel gave Ogden seven stellar innings and the Raptors (14-12, 34-29) have won eight of their past 11 games.
The Raptors have improved in every facet of the game during that stretch, Raptors manager Damon Berryhill said.
“We jumped out to a good lead and the pitching beared down and kept them in check the whole ballgame,” Berryhill said. “The last few games, we’ve been scoring some runs and giving some back, but it was nice to get out to a big lead and have our pitching do a nice job for us.”
Ogden sent 10 men to the plate in the fourth and scored five runs without an extra base hit. The Raptors repeated the feat in the seventh inning en route to pounding 17 hits and claiming their second biggest win of the season after playing three consecutive one-run games.
Valdez doubled in a run in the first inning, smashed a solo homer to right field in the third and delivered a two-run single in the fourth.
“I was just up there just real loose, keeping it nice and easy and letting it flow,” the first baseman said.
Valdez went 3-for-5 and was a triple shy of hitting for the cycle.
“We’ve just been playing good ball lately,” he said. “Our pitching’s been there. Our defense is a lot better than it was at the beginning of the year; we were making a lot of errors. We just got our defense right and we’ve been swinging the bats pretty good.
Delvis Morales, Corey Seager and Bladimir Franco each drove in two runs. Six Raptors had at least two hits, led by Franco and Valdez with three each, and six scored two runs.
In his Ogden debut, designated hitter Austin Cowen went 2-for-5 and scored twice. The Gillette, Wyo., native, a 35th-round 2012 draft pick as a catcher, hit .280 in 13 games in the Arizona League before being promoted to the Raptors.
Caughel gave up a leadoff hit to start the game and didn’t allow another hit until Carlos Sanchez singled to lead off the fifth. The right-hander hit two batters but faced the minimum through four, helped by three double plays in the first three innings.
Caughel (2-2) tossed seven strong innings, allowing three runs on six hits, striking out two without a walk and stranding three Mustangs in the fifth. Carlos De Aza pitched the final two innings, allowing one run on two hits.
“You’ve been around this ballpark enough, there’s not a lot of leads are safe. That’s why I was real pleased with our pitching staff,” Berryhill said. “Lindsey went out and we put up runs and shut them down.”
“His last three starts have been really solid starts for us.”
The Raptors ripped Billings starter Drew Cisco (4-1) for seven runs on seven hits in just three innings to hand him his first loss. They also shredded Mustangs reliever Nolan Becker, who was charged with five runs in just 2⁄3 of an inning.
Ogden and Billings play the second of their three-game series tonight at 7 p.m. at Lindquist Field. Lefty Gregg Downing is scheduled to take the mound for the Raptors, who will face Mustangs right-hander Sal Romano.
• RAPTORS NOTES: Jeremy Rathjen, who hit game-winning homers in two of the previous three nights for Ogden, wasn’t forgotten Friday. Playing right field, Rathjen made all three outs in the sixth inning; flashing a strong arm by throwing a perfect strike to third to freeze Zach Vincej at second after a leadoff double. Rathjen showed his glove next, catching a fly ball as he ran into the wall, but Vincej took advantage and scored from second on the sac fly as Rathjen was momentarily knocked down. Rathjen finally got a routine play when he caught the third out. … Billings sent four pinch hitters to the plate in the eighth inning.