Adjustment in mentality works for GJ’s Schlitter
After Craig Schlitter walked the first two batters he faced Monday night, Grand Junction Rockies pitching coach Ryan Kibler jogged out to mound.
What could have spelled an early exit for the relief pitcher — filling in on a spot start — was a turning point, as he tossed three shutout innings in Grand Junction’s 5-3 win over Great Falls in a Pioneer League game at Suplizio Field.
The rainout on Aug. 13 against Billings and the next day’s doubleheader interrupted the pitching rotation. Schlitter, a former starting pitcher at Bryant University in Rhode Island, used a four pitch repertoire to become the go-to spot starter.
“I had to bring myself back to where I was at in college,” Schlitter said. “I had to get back to the starting mentality. Obviously, at the beginning, it didn’t work out. But I settled in towards the end.”
So when Schlitter’s mentality wasn’t quite right and his control wavered, Kibler knew how to fix it.
“His pitch count was getting up there earlier on,” Kibler said. “He got behind and got deep in the count with these guys. He was trying to be too fine. Just missing down, just missing outside.
“I told him just to pitch the darn thing and quit trying to be too fine. His stuff is good enough, especially his fastball, that when he settles in, he’s good.”
Schlitter was able to coax back-to-back groundouts, the second resulting in a 4-6-3 double play.
In the second inning, he hit a batter, who advanced to second on a wild pitch, but got two more groundouts and struck out a batter looking to end the inning.
Schlitter gave up a leadoff single in the third inning, but benefitted from another double play.
“I mean, I’ve pitched with the same mentality,” Schlitter said. “But it’s a little different knowing you have one inning to work with instead of seven.”
Grand Junction manager Anthony Sanders said Schlitter is “the guy we can turn to” when in need of a spot starter.
The 6-foot, 195-pound right-hander gave up two hits and two walks in three innings, but struck out two and didn’t give up a run.
Tony Bryant picked up the win in relief, his third of the season, and struck out four in 2 2/3 innings.
Cristian Quintin and Yoely Bello secured holds for the Rockies. Bello’s tiny ERA creeped even lower, now at 0.81.
“He’s got a wipeout slider,” Kibler said of Bello. “Lefties can’t hit it, and it’s tough on righties, too.”
Taylor Black got the save, his third of the season.
Most of the Rockies’ offense came during the bottom of the third inning. With one out, Terry McClure singled up the middle and Luis Jean drew a walk. On the next pitch, McClure and Jean pulled off a double steal, setting up a two-run double for Wes Rogers.
Rogers was nearly thrown out at second, but scissor-kicked to dodge the tag.
Forrest Wall singled in Rogers and advanced to second on the throw home. Wall stole third easily, then scored on a warning track sacrifice fly from Kevin Padlo.
Nate Causey added a solo home run in the bottom of the eighth, his second home run in as many days. This one narrowly left the park, and two Great Falls outfielders collided trying to rob it.
“We pulled up a little at the end,” Sanders said. “We shut down, besides another big home run for Causey. But the pitching was able to hold up for us, the guys out of the pen did enough, and it was an all-around solid performance.”
“It comes down to starting pitching and defense for us. If we can get that quality start up there and keep the errors down, we’ll keep winning games.”