GJ Rockies see positives, negatives in 1st game action
It wasn’t exactly a dress rehearsal, but the Grand Junction Rockies accomplished what they needed to Thursday — play under the lights in front of their home fans against a real opponent.
After only three practices at Suplizio Field, the Rookie affiliate of the Colorado Rockies debuted in front of 1,080 fans, losing an exhibition game 9-8 to the Greeley Grays, a Colorado Collegiate Baseball League team.
“It is beneficial. You’re playing someone with a different uni on,” Grand Junction manager Tony Diaz said. “It doesn’t matter who you play, you play against the game of baseball.”
The Rockies, who led from the start, took a 7-5 lead into the ninth but gave up four runs.
The first five batters in the inning reached base against Jesse Meaux.
“When you pitch behind in the count, walk batters, then you’re playing with fire, and that’s what happened,” Diaz said. “I’m glad it happened, so they see it doesn’t matter who you face, you’re playing against the game of baseball.”
Meaux walked pinch-hitter Fily Perez, then gave up a single just between third and short to Zach Wilson. The third batter he faced, Tyler Wallace, bunted, and Meaux tried to get the lead runner at third, but his throw was late, loading the bases.
Another single in the hole between third and short got two runs home before Bryan Tibbitts laced a double down the right-field line for a 9-7 lead.
Meaux retired the next three batters.
Jason Stolz, who hit a solo home run in the seventh inning, flied out to left to lead off the ninth, and Jeff Popick grounded out.
Julian Yan gave Grand Junction a chance when he drove a ball deep over the right-field wall to cut it to 9-8, but Carl Thomore grounded out.
“I only was trying to get on base and get the team an opportunity to win this game,” Yan said. “I only wanted to get a double or a base hit to get on base so my team would win the game. I wasn’t trying to hit a home run.”
Diaz was impressed that Yan hit the ball to the opposite field with two strikes.
“This is a kid with a lot of potential, probably the ‘toolsiest’ kid we have at this level,” Diaz said. “He’s got a plus arm, tremendous power, you can attest to that. He’s got to learn to become a hitter first. He’s got to learn to hit .300, and the power will come.”
Yan, who hit only three home runs last season in Casper, hit two out of Suplizio, the first a no-doubt shot to left.
“That felt good,” he said, grinning. “I hit it very good.”
Stolz hit his home run high over the left-field wall.
“It was fun to get out there and get our feet wet and let our fans see what we’ve got,” he said. “It’s tough to drop that game. It was just an exhibition game, but you always want to come out and compete and win, but it was fun to play in front of the town for the first time.”
Third baseman Miguel De Leon went 2 for 4, with a home run to right in the sixth.
“I was really impressed with De Leon,” Diaz said. “He hit the ball to right field with a runner on (for an RBI double in the second). He’s trying to get the runner over, and that’s what we’re looking for.
“Against the soft-throwing lefty, he stayed back and hit a home run to right-center. Those are the things we’re looking at.”
The Rockies put up three runs in the second inning on four straight hits, including a leadoff double to straightaway center by catcher Drew Beuerlein. He scored on a wild pitch after Jarod Berggren singled, and De Leon followed with his double.
Diaz liked how his club responded after the Grays scored.
“I already mentioned it to the ball club, we did not quit,” he said. “We battled back right away. You look at the lines, every time they scored, we answered back. That’s a great sign.”
The pitching highlight was the eighth inning thrown by Kyle Roliard, who struck out the side.
“I was definitely nervous out there; there were a lot more fans than there were in Casper,” he said. “I just let the work I’ve done the past three months (in extended spring training) take over, and it really helped.
“It was a college team, so I tried to get ahead with my fastball and finish off hitters with my breaking pitches.”
The Rockies have three more workouts before boarding the bus Monday morning for the season opener Monday night in Ogden, Utah. Now that they’ve played a game, even one that doesn’t count, they feel more ready for the real thing.
“It was good for the new guys especially,” Roliard said, “seeing some live pitching, being under the lights and getting the jitters out of the way.”