GJ Rockies batters struggle to get hits in 9-3 loss to Billings

Ashley Graeter, left, collides with Matt Wessinger Sunday while catching a fly ball against Billings at Dehler Park in Billings, Mont. (Photo by Paul Ruhter, Billings Gazette)



The Sunday woes continued for the Grand Junction Rockies, who struggled to put the bat on the ball Sunday afternoon in Billings, Mont.

Rockies batters were limited to three hits, and they struck out 17 times in a 9-3 loss to the Mustangs in Pioneer League baseball. The loss dropped the Rockies to 0-4 on Sundays this season and 13-14 overall. Billings improved to 15-12.

The Sunday thing is merely unexplainable coincidence, one of those things that sometimes happens in baseball, Rockies manager Tony Diaz said.

What was easy to understand was the dominance of hard-throwing right-hander Robert Stephenson, who was the Cincinnati Reds’ first-round pick in 2011, but he signed late and didn’t play in the minor leagues last year.

Stephenson pitched the first five innings Sunday and earned the win. He struck out the first six batters he faced and finished with nine strikeouts, his season high. He gave up all three of Grand Junction’s hits but didn’t walk anyone. The only run off Stephenson was a solo home run by Matt Wessinger to lead off the fourth inning. It was the first hit he surrendered.

Diaz was impressed.

“He’s a first-rounder for a reason,” Diaz said. “Facing a pitcher with a 96 mile-per-hour fastball, an 83 mile-per-hour curve and a change-up that’s devastating, you’re going to struggle.”

Jeff Popick doubled in the fourth, and Max White singled in the fifth for Grand Junction’s final hit of the game.

The Mustangs’ four relievers didn’t allow a hit and nearly matched Stephenson with eight strikeouts over the final four innings. That was not a matter of dominance by those hurlers, Diaz said.

“We started chasing. We expanded the strike zone,” he said.

Grand Junction scored two runs in the ninth without a contribution from its bats. Rather, Billings’ reliever Erik Miller was extraordinarily wild.

Miller hit the first batter he faced, Franmy Pena, walked the next one, Popick, while Pena went to second, then third on wild pitches. A passed ball with Ben Waldrip at the plate allowed Pena to score, and Waldrip eventually struck out, but he was safe at first on a dropped-third strike, the result of another wild pitch.

Miller finally recorded an out, striking out Julian Yan, but he walked Max White, and one of those balls to White was a wild pitch that brought Popick home for the final run.

That last walk ended Miller’s outing, and reliever Jimmy Moran entered and recorded two strikeouts to end the game.

Game notes

■ The Rockies have hit at least one home run in each of the five games on this seven-game road trip.

■ Wessinger’s home run was his third of the season and the second on this road trip.

■ Grand Junction pitcher Zach Jemiola’s appearance in relief Sunday was his first since June 25. He’d been sidelined with a sore shoulder.

■ Johendi Jiminian is scheduled to be the Rockies’ starting pitcher tonight.

■ Carlos Sanchez finished 2 for 4 with a seventh-inning grand slam and six RBI for Billings and raised his RBI total for the season to 24. Orem’s Wade Hinkle entered Sunday with the league lead in RBI, 25.


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