"His breaking ball, he's been throwing it really well," Salt Lake manager Keith Johnson said. "He's been throwing it for strikes and bouncing it when he needs to. He's been getting back in counts. He's been doing a great job for us getting deep into games."
Buckner needed 98 pitches to get through six innings, so it was sometimes bumpy. Three times he allowed two or more runners, finally giving up a run in the sixth on an RBI double.
But more often than not, he was consistent and hard to hit. He struck out seven to go 3-0 on the young season.
The Bees offense gave Buckner a lead to work with in the first, with the first eight batters reaching base safely. Trent Oeltjen and Luis Rodriguez scored on an errant throw, then four straight singles scored three more runs before Bonderman could stop the bleeding.
Bonderman surrendered only three more hits, striking out two and walking none. But he had given up too much, and the Mariners couldn't catch up. Tacoma ended up stranding 12 baserunners in its attempts to overtake the Bees.
There were some tense moments for the home team.
Mitch Stetter came in to relieve Buckner but struggled, leaving Fernando Cabrera to sweat out the seventh inning with bases loaded. Cabrera let two of the runners he inherited from Stetter score, but Oeltjen made a sliding catch in right to end the threat.Salt Lake's Ryan Brasier pitched an impressive finish, striking out three in two hitless innings to get the save.
Johnson was back for the first time in three games after attending to the death of his father. The Bees manager said he appreciated being back on the field and feeling life get back to normal.
"It was kind of therapeutic to be back out here with the guys after my father passed away," he said. "It was good to see my family. Everyone's OK now, and it's time to move on. Getting back here with the guys and everybody saying hi to me was therapeutic."
Storylines Bees 5, Rainiers 3
R Salt Lake's first eight batters reach base in a five-run first inning
• Salt Lake starter Billy Buckner (3-0) strikes out seven in the win.
• Ryan Brasier gets the save with three strikeouts in two innings.