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It was a good feeling, Roberto Lopez said, to see his name in the starting lineup in the hours leading up to the game.
On Saturday night, the 27-year-old outfielder showed he wants to be there every day. He finished with a double and a game-winning single for the Salt Lake Bees (3-0) who rode another 8th-inning rally for a 5-3 win over the visiting Tucson Padres (0-3).
The victory gave Salt Lake its first 3-0 start since 2008, when the squad started 21-1 for the year. But in the wake of top outfielder Kole Calhoun's injury that will leave him sidelined for a month, manager Keith Johnson has been glad to see the next-man-up philosophy is working so far for his club.
"That's how our roster is made: We have a bunch of guys who have the ability to put the ball in play," he said. "Our team is built in this fashion. It's early, but it's good to see these guys grinding out these Ws."
On Wednesday, it was Lopez who knocked a right field single that scored Luis Rodriguez and John Hester to break a 3-3 tie that threatened to take the Bees to extras. It was the third straight time Salt Lake had won by breaking a tie in the seventh inning or later.
Calhoun's fracture in his hamate bone has been tough early season adversity for the Bees, but the outfield has remained productive. Lopez, Matt Young and Trent Oeltjen each got on base at least twice in Saturday's game.
"Not playing opening day was a little tough, but when Kole got hurt, I told [Johnson] 'This is not how I wanted to get into the lineup,'" Young said. "Kole's great guy, he's a good bat for us. But I'm going to take this opportunity and run with it so hopefully when he comes back, the decision is a little harder not to put me in the lineup."
Hitting depth was not an issue on Saturday, as the Bees got 10 hits and drew five walks. They could've been a bit more efficient with runners on: 10 were stranded.
A wild third inning set up a deadlock that lasted most of the game. A.J. Schugel started hot with four strikeouts in his first six batters, but was getting himself in trouble by the second inning. The Padres scored one in the second, then two in the third when the Bees had a chance for a double play.
But in the bottom of the third, Rodriguez rocketed a double up the line that scored Efren Navarro and Oeltjen, then scored himself on a single by Luke Carlin.
The bullpen didn't allow a run for the second straight night, with David Carpenter picking up the win and Dane De La Rosa notching a save with a perfect ninth. Johnson also appreciated Schugel's toughness in his first Triple A start.
"He had some trouble but he was able to minimize the damage it could've gotten a lot worse than it was," Johnson said. "Once that double-play ball that we didn't turn happened, he settled down a little bit and was able to get two more innings."
Salt Lake 5, Tucson 3
R Roberto Lopez notches the game-winning hit in the eighth inning, going 2-for-4.
• Luis Rodriguez gets two RBI and scores a pair of runs, including the game-winner.
• The bullpen doesn't allow a run for the second straight game.