GJ Rockies roll into second half
The Grand Junction Rockies ended the first half of the Pioneer League season Saturday with a five-game winning streak, but ultimately fell one game behind Orem in the South Division standings.
The Rockies did, however, scratch and claw their way to a victory Saturday night, topping the Owlz 6-3 at Suplizio Field.
Grand Junction’s 23 first-half wins are the most by any Colorado Rockies Rookie affiliate in the franchise’s history. The Rockies (23-15) finished one game behind Orem (24-14) and three games ahead of Idaho Falls (20-18).
“It’s all behind the scenes, a lot of the hard work these players and this coaching staff puts in,” Rockies manager Anthony Sanders said. “It starts way back in the offseason and extended spring training, all the way through the first half these young men built. Hats off to them.”
Spotty pitching and three errors by Orem — which clinched the first half division title on July 22 — allowed Grand Junction to score six runs on only seven hits.
Owlz starter Michael Bolaski walked five batters in as many innings, giving up four runs and taking the loss.
Walks in the bottom of the first inning, in particular, allowed Grand Junction to bounce back from a costly fielding error that allowed Michael Strentz to score after he hit an RBI triple.
With the Rockies trailing 2-0, Omar Carrizales sliced a leadoff single, then Max George and Randy Reyes drew back-to-back walks. Hamlet Marte hit into a likely double play, but Reyes took out the Orem shortstop’s legs at second, limiting the damage to one out and allowing Carrizales to score.
Wes Rogers hit a soft grounder that had double-play potential, but beat the throw to first to allow another run to score. Orem answered with one run in the top of the second, but George’s RBI single tied it again.
Kyle Freeland settled in after a rough start, pitching 3 1/3 innings. He gave up three runs, two earned, on four hits.
“I know everybody wants to see his pitch count go up and see him pitch deeper into games, but there’s a process,” Sanders said. “Ultimately, we’re just trying the get his feet wet. The goal is for him to be pitching in Denver one day.”
Grand Junction’s bullpen held Orem scoreless the rest of the way, with James Lomangino, Alec Kenilvort, Yoely Bello and Gavin Glanz surrendering only four hits in a combined 5 2/3 innings. Glanz picked up his fourth save of the season and Bello his fourth hold.
The Rockies broke through in the seventh inning, when Rogers hit a towering two-run home run to straightaway center field.
“Got a fastball in with two outs,” Rogers said. “We’d already got that lead run in the third and Marte had that big hit, so I was just trying to get us going.”
Rogers said working with trainers and coaches has allowed him to recover from an early season ankle injury and find rhythm at the plate. Rogers said he is “just trying to get a feel for the barrel on the ball.”
For Sanders, Rogers creates more problems in an already stacked outfield. Rogers is hitting .500 with five RBI in four games, and also has two stolen bases.
“We’ve got a lot of guys with talent out there and only three places to put them,” Sanders said. “He’s been nipping at the bit to get back in, and he’s definitely taking advantage of the opportunities he’s been given.”
Rogers finished 2 for 4 with two runs and two RBI. George also had a multi-hit game, going 2 for 4 with a double, two runs and an RBI.
Strentz led Orem, going 3 for 4 with a run and an RBI. The Owlz were 0 for 10 with runners in scoring position.