Briceno breaks out
GJ Rockies' catcher hits three HRs in victory
Jose Briceno was assigned to the Grand Junction Rockies in part to give the Rookie club a veteran catcher to work with the young pitching staff.
Friday night, he showed the other part of his game.
Briceno went 4 for 5 with three consecutive home runs — off three different pitchers to three different parts of Suplizio Field — and drove in seven runs in the Rockies’ 12-3 victory over Orem.
“Today when I wake up I think, ‘Today I see the ball and hit the ball,’ ” said Briceno, who is from Venezuela. “Before the game I worked in the (batting cage), see the ball and hit the ball.”
And boy, did he hit the ball.
“Yeah, a long way tonight,” he said with a grin.
After a first-inning, two-run double down the left-field line that tied the game, Briceno was seeing baseballs fly over the fence.
A curveball from Orem starter Kenyan Middleton was sent over the wall in left-center, a few rows into the bleachers. The leadoff shot made it 5-2.
Correlle Prime and Jairo Rosario each drove in runs in the first to help starter Blake Shouse settle down in his debut.
In the fifth, Briceno sent another curve, this one by Chris O’Grady, into the parking lot behind the right-field fence for a 7-2 lead.
Then came the no-doubter in the sixth. A fastball offering from Ryan Etsell with two men on went screaming over the double-deck wall in left and landed somewhere on the Lincoln Park Golf Course, giving Briceno seven RBI on the night.
He had one more at-bat in the eighth, but grounded out.
“You’ve seen why I put him in the middle of the lineup almost every game,” Grand Junction manager Anthony Sanders said. “He’s carried this ballclub in Scottsdale (in extended spring training), and hopefully we’ll see the same thing here.”
Originally, Briceno was assigned to Asheville, Class A ball, but with two first-year catchers signing free-agent contracts, he was moved to Grand Junction to be the veteran presence behind the plate. He played 10 games in Asheville, hitting .303 with four doubles and three RBI.
“Jose was fantastic tonight,” said Devin Burke, who relieved Shouse after two innings and threw five scoreless innings, allowing only one hit. He didn’t walk a batter, and he struck out three. “I loved his pitch calling tonight. We were on the same page all night.
“That kind of chemistry can go a long way for a team, especially this early on. Getting to know these hitters, I’m sure these guys have played (against) them in extended spring training and earlier on. Him having an idea of who the hitter was and helping me out was phenomenal.”
The Rockies finished with 13 hits and kept the pressure on Orem all night, taking extra bases when they could. The Owlz (3-6) committed three errors that led to two runs for Grand Junction (7-2).
Despite shuffling the lineup through the first week of the season, Sanders likes what he sees so far.
“That’s why you can’t get on these kids. You never know what to expect from these young kids,” he said. “Everyone’s getting a chance to play. We’ve had a different lineup every day, as you can see, just trying to figure out what kind of team we have. They’re making my job a lot easier.”
Briceno is making the pitchers’ jobs easier, as is the defense.
“I had some punch-outs, but other than that, the defense was there behind me,” Burke said. “This is a professional defense. They’re not going to make errors, and if they do, they happen; I’ll try to pick them up.
“It’s a huge confidence booster, playing behind a defense like this with the arms we have in the outfield and the infield. We have a lot of really talented players.
“And of course, getting 12 runs doesn’t hurt at all.”
As for Briceno, who has played in all but one game so far for the Rockies, today’s another day.
“I’m more relaxed now,” he said of his approach at the plate. Before Friday, he was hitting only .174, with two RBI and no extra-base hits. “I’ve forgotten today. I’m working for tomorrow.”