Balog has solid debut as Rox lose

GJR second baseman Zach Osborne dives for a shot into left field against the Oren Owlz.



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GJR second baseman Zach Osborne dives for a shot into left field against the Oren Owlz.

Alex Balog said not to worry, when he stretches his back on the mound, leaning back, it’s not because it hurts or is stiff.

“That’s a normal thing. I kind of lean back,” Balog said Monday after making his professional debut in the Grand Junction Rockies’ 11-4 loss to Orem at Suplizio Field.

Balog has been out all season with a strained lat muscle, which happened during his physical in Denver before he signed his contract with the Colorado Rockies. He said he stretched too much in the MRI machine and pulled the muscle in his right side, and the Rockies were cautious in his recovery.

Before the Rockies’ second-round draft pick made his long-awaited professional debut Monday, he said he was nervous, but called it a good nervous.

“I was a little nervous. If I wasn’t nervous, I would know something’s wrong, but for the most part it was all good nerves,” the big right-hander said. “As soon as I hit the mound it all went away, just excitement out there.”

Balog was on a three-inning/45-pitch limit, and only needed 37 pitches (21 strikes) to get through the third.

“Very positive for him in his debut,” Grand Junction manager Anthony Sanders said. “He hasn’t been on the hill in awhile and the first thing you want to find is his control and it was good tonight. A positive outing tonight.”

He allowed two runs on four hits, both runs coming in the second inning, and struck out one.

“They hit a couple of good pitches but I also left a couple of pitches middle and a couple pitches up, which they got ahold of,” Balog said. “The home run was low but it was middle-in. He got ahold of it and hit it out. I know what I need to do to make the adjustment next time, stay down in the zone and hit my spots better and I plan on making that adjustment.”

The bullpen, which had seemingly righted itself after a rough road trip, didn’t have it Monday, allowing nine runs on 13 hits. It took five guys out of the bullpen to get through the game.

A dozen of Orem’s 17 hits were for extra bases, including five home runs, the most the Rockies have given up in a game this season.

“Our relievers have been struggling a little bit,” first baseman Correlle Prime said. “That’s how it is sometimes. Hopefully we can get it together starting (tonight). We left a lot of balls up tonight.”

Balog gave up the first home run, a solo shot in the second inning to Brandon Bayardi.

The Owlz also got home runs from Ryan Dalton, Eric Aguilera, and two from leadoff man Mark Shannon.

The Rockies (23-21, 2-4) were in the game early, down 6-3 after four innings, but couldn’t keep pace with Orem’s hitters, who jumped on every pitch that was left up in the strike zone.

Prime went 3 for 4, hitting his sixth home run of the season in the second inning. He doubled home two runs in the fourth after Raimel Tapia and Jordan Patterson reached on back-to-back base hits.

The ball on Patterson’s single to center was bobbled, allowing both runners to move up a base, and Prime followed with a line drive to left.

“We swung the bats better. Nine hits, not a bad night,” Prime said. “We want to hang around, it’s just tough for the pitchers. We can’t expect them to throw zeroes every night.”

Tapia tripled in the fifth, scoring Zach Osborne, who led off the inning with an infield single.

After that, though, Orem reliever Harrison Cooney shut the Rockies down on two hits through the eighth and Spencer Trygg threw a one-hit ninth.

Sanders didn’t hide his disappointment in the relief pitching.

“Very disappointed by our pen tonight in my opinion,” he said. “Just a lot of average stuff they threw up there. We’ve got to be better than that.”

Teams in the South Division have seen everybody in the Rockies’ bullpen now, Sanders said, and the pitchers have to realize that.

“It’s hit and miss. We never know what we’re going to get from those guys down there every night,” he said. “They’ve got to come in and use all their pitches and locate and get ahead. Some teams are starting to see us for the second and third time now and we’ve got to make some adjustments.”

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