Conroy silences GJ Rockies’ bats
Wind blowing in about 20 miles an hour, the book says you play your outfielders shallow.
Both Grand Junction and Idaho Falls played by the book Saturday night at Suplizio Field.
The difference in the Chukars’ 12-3 victory?
Namely, Patrick Conroy.
The Idaho Falls left-hander was perfect through six innings, retiring 18 straight Rockies hitters as his teammates staked him to a 10-0 lead through three innings.
“When you look the scoreboard and see zeroes, you kind of know, but it was important I stay focused and working with Zane (Evans, his catcher) and pitching coach Steve Merriman to keep it rolling,” Conroy said.
Most of his teammates stayed away between innings, as baseball tradition requires, but, “I’m the type of guy I’ll say something to somebody. Maybe a couple more innings like that it would be different, but the guys were great.”
Until Dom Nunez broke up the perfect game with a sharp single to right to lead off the seventh inning, the closest thing to a hit for Grand Junction (24-25, 3-8) was gobbled up by a great diving stop in the first.
Correlle Prime’s bid for a base hit up the middle was snared by Idaho Falls shortstop Humberto Arteaga, who threw out Prime at first.
After that it was smooth sailing, despite the wind, for Conroy, who struck out eight. The Pioneer League leader in ERA at 2.25 entering the game improved to 5-0, but his ERA inched up slightly to 2.52, still tops in the league, after allowing three runs in the seventh.
“By then it’s the third time facing the same guys by then, you’ve got to bear down and be effective,” Conroy said. “After the leadoff hit I was pitching from the stretch the first time the whole game, and that probably played a part. I’ll take it. It’s a win and four in a row, so it’s definitely a good feeling.”
Conversely, Grand Junction starter Alex Balog had a quick first inning, but couldn’t keep the ball down in the second, giving up six runs on six hits. The Chukars hitters hit line drives to the gap, past the drawn-in outfield, and sharp ground balls.
The Rockies, mired in a 3-11 slump, were striking out and flying out.
“I told the kid when he came out of the game, great job tonight,” Grand Junction manager Anthony Sanders said. “He mixed up his pitches and he pitched out there tonight. We didn’t make any adjustments and we didn’t get a good start from our starter as well.
“It seems like a formula we’ve had for awhile now. If we can’t get some good pitching, it’s going to be hard to come back every night.”
The wind held up fly ball after fly ball, and Idaho Falls manager Omar Ramirez kept telling his hitters to hit line drives, and told his pitchers to attack the Rockies’ hitters.
“You can’t give the hitters too much credit, go after them. That’s what we tell all the pitchers,” Ramirez said. “On a night like this, the wind blowing in, go after hitters. They’re not going to hit it out. It’s a tough night to hit home runs.
“(Conroy) took advantage of that. On the other hand, we kept telling our hitters to keep hitting line drives and hard ground balls because the ball isn’t going anywhere tonight.”
Conroy threw a variety of breaking pitches and the Rockies couldn’t adjust.
“First time through I tried not to show them all my breaking pitches,” he said. He threw his slider early, then mixed in two different curveballs later in the game.
“Usually both don’t work at the same time, but tonight they were,” he said with a grin.
Balog (0-2) was lifted after the second inning, and Helmis Rodriguez allowed four runs in the third, but settled down after Elier Hernandez drove a two-run, stand-up triple to the wall in right-center. Rodriguez retired nine in a row until allowing a double to Hunter Dozier in the sixth and a base hit to Evans.
Idaho Falls (26-23, 7-4), tied for first in the South Division in the second half, added two more runs in the seventh for a 12-0 lead.
“Bottom line, they squared up some balls and we leave some balls up in the zone and you pay for it,” Sanders said. “It’s a hitter-friendly ballpark even with the wind blowing in.
“We’ve got to get out of this. We’ve got to find a way as a staff and as players to get over this. I think we have one of the more positive staffs, myself, Kibby (pitching coach Ryan Kibler), Lee (Stevens) and especially Tony Diaz. We’ll just keep going. Lot of positive energy. It’ll turn around.”
Notes: Grand Junction outfielder Jeff Popick gave a thumbs-down Saturday when asked how his injured right hamstring was feeling. ... The loss drops Grand Junction to 11-15 at home, 13-10 on the road and they’re now 1-10 against left-handed starters. ... The 19 hits is a season high against the Rockies, who managed four.