Freeland chills Chukars
Top pick gets first pro win for GJ Rockies
Call it the lanky lefty lockdown.
The Grand Junction Rockies put Kyle Freeland on the mound Thursday night — listed at 6-foot-4 and 185 pounds — against Idaho Falls ace Eric Skoaglund, who is 6-foot-7 and 200 pounds.
Both are left-handed pitchers with similar arsenals, and both are the highest draft picks on their respective rosters.
That’s where the similarities ended.
Where Kyle Freeland got offensive support and a solid defensive effort, Skoaglund dealt with several errors and no offense as Grand Junction defeated the Chukars 8-5 in a Pioneer League baseball game at Suplizio Field.
Freeland had his longest outing of the season, throwing five shutout innings with five strikeouts and one walk to earn his first professional decision. He spread three hits across his start and allowed only two Chukars into scoring position.
“Fastball, slider and curveball are all working, and I was able to mix in a few changeups,” Freeland said. “But it was about filling the zone with the fastball, slider and curveball.”
Freeland, who was selected with the No. 8 overall draft pick by the Colorado Rockies, hadn’t pitched five innings in a game since he was at the University of Evansville in May. Freeland said it was nice not to “be choked off early” and added it was a major improvement to work through a full start.
Grand Junction manager Anthony Sanders said Freeland’s pitch count will continue to rise as the season progresses.
“It’s nice to have an ace out there on the hill like that,” Sanders said.
Skoaglund was the tough-luck loser, giving up four runs — one earned — with three strikeouts in three innings.
His only earned run came on a home run by Forrest Wall, who crushed an inside fastball into the right-field parking lot in the second inning. It was Wall’s first home run of the season, and for a highly touted power hitter coming out of Orangewood Christian High School in Florida, finally putting a ball over the fence was a relief.
“He actually gave me that pitch during my first at-bat,” said Wall, who batted leadoff. “He gave it to me again, and I was able to get ahold of it. It took a while, and I was getting a little crap in the dugout — all playing around — but it was good to finally get that first one.”
Wall went 2 for 3 with three runs, an RBI and two walks, bumping his batting average to .362.
Kevin Padlo and Wesley Jones had multiple hits, too. Padlo had a two-out, two-run triple in the bottom of the seventh inning and finished 2 for 4 with a run. Jones was 2 for 3 with an RBI.
Wall and Padlo each stole a base, pushing the Rockies’ season total to 91, far and away the best in the Pioneer League.
Grand Junction (26-17, 3-2 second half) had a 7-1 lead in the bottom of the seventh inning, but Idaho Falls (21-22, 1-4) scored a run in the eighth and three runs in the ninth.
The game wasn’t close until the Chukars’ Jecksson Flores hit an RBI triple to the left-center gap, but the Rockies held on for their eighth win in 10 games.
“Every night we have a different guy performing, pitchers included,” Sanders said. “So, there’s really no formula to our success, other than a bunch of young kids playing hard right now.”
McClure could return
Grand Junction utility man Terry McClure appeared to suffer a dislocated left shoulder during the Rockies’ 7-2 win over Idaho Falls on Wednesday. But Sanders said has been working with trainers and could make his return tonight.
“He’ll take batting practice with us and might be in the lineup,” Sanders said.
The Rockies will celebrate Colorado’s 138th “birthday” today during the game against Idaho Falls. August is “Colorado Proud Month,” and Colorado Native Lager will be giving away prizes to fans 21 years old and older at the game.