Ready to Rock at home

GJ Rockies excited about home opener

Juan Ciriaco and the Grand Junction Rockies will finally get to play a home game, tonight against Idaho Falls. The Rockies opened the season with a five-game road trip, going 2-3. Josh Mueller is expected to get his second start for the team, with first pitch at 7:05 p.m. at Suplizio Field.

That first big hurdle is out of the way: The Grand Junction Rockies picked up their first win in franchise history.

Five games into the season, more and more players have made their professional debuts. Some have been wide-eyed, a little skittish until a deep breath helps get the heart rate closer to normal.

They’re bonding on the road, forming friendships and pumping each other up on Twitter.

Now comes the next OMG moment — the home opener.

Grand Junction manager Tony Diaz just smiles. He knows what the Rookie Rockies are going through. He knows they’re eager to play in front of thousands of home fans at Suplizio Field tonight. Heck, he’s excited, too.

“Yeah, we spent a week out there, and I think we got to see what our field looks like and how it plays,” he said before the final game of the opening series in Ogden. “It’s always exciting to play in front of the home crowd”

The club left Idaho Falls shortly after their 13-4 victory on Friday and drove all night to Grand Junction, hoping to arrive by 7 a.m. That gave the Rockies just enough time for a nap and a pregame meal before heading back to the ballpark.

Fans are eager to see the first professional baseball team in Grand Junction, especially those high draft picks. Grand Junction has Colorado’s two first-round picks, outfielder David Dahl and pitcher Eddie Butler. Dahl made his debut Thursday in the Rockies’ 4-3 win over the Chukars, with Butler still looking for his first appearance.

Max White, the club’s second-round pick who didn’t sign until June 15, also is waiting for his debut in the Rockies’ outfield. It’s all part of a plan.

Diaz likes to have the players, especially those coming out of high school, such as Dahl and White, to be with the club about a week before they play.

“I’ve always done it like that with the large majority of our players that haven’t played,” he said. “David had not played in six weeks. Obviously a guy like (Matt) Wessinger, who played two weeks ago, was fresher. We only got four days with him, but we can be more aggressive with guys like that. If you haven’t played in a month, we can’t (push them).”

Wessinger played for St. John’s University in the NCAA Super Regionals two weeks ago, so Diaz felt better about putting him in the lineup after only two games. The fifth-round pick responded, hitting .375 through two games (3 for 8) with three runs scored and two stolen bases, playing both shortstop and second base.

When they play isn’t a surprise to the Rockies, and they aren’t sitting in the dugout stewing because their name isn’t on the lineup card.

“They know. I give them specific days,” he said. “I tell them what we’re looking at, and, if anything, it’s a day or two off, but they know it’s a week (with the club before they play).”

Josh Mueller, who started the first game of the season at Ogden, is tonight’s probable starter. Mueller is on a rehab assignment from Class A Modesto (Calif.) because of a shoulder impingement.

Mueller went 4 1/3 innings in the opener, taking the loss. He allowed seven runs, five earned, on nine hits. He walked two and struck out one, gave up a home run and carries a 10.38 ERA into his second start. How he continues to progress from the injury will determine how long he stays in Grand Junction.

Tonight’s lineup will depend on several factors, not the least of which is how the young players handle an eight-hour overnight bus ride.

“I know it’s really early, but as the season goes along, the guys who play in a late game and we get home at 7 in the morning, we try to give them a breather the following game,” Diaz said. “But you can’t afford to do that with everybody. We’ll see how things unfold. It’s early.”

Through the first four games, all but seven of the 19 pitchers had made at least one appearance.

“We’re getting more ready,” Diaz said. “Little by little we’ll get there. It usually takes a full week, and if you can stay with your head above water, you’re fine. You don’t want to just get demoralized too soon.

“Even though everybody knows we’re not all ready yet as far as having everybody full-go, you want to stay within striking distance even though it’s early.

“The guys we have need to do what they can control, play well, and at the end of the day we should be all right.”


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