Mind the gap
Pitches up in the zone lead to gap hits as Great Falls tops Rox
There’s a reason Tony Diaz and Ryan Kibler preach keeping the ball down in the strike zone.
That’s because when the Grand Junction Rockies’ pitchers leave the ball up, they get gapped.
Great Falls took advantage of pitches left up in the zone to the tune of a 16-hit attack Friday in the Voyagers’ 8-5 win at Suplizio Field. It snapped the Rockies’ five-game winning streak.
“It’s one of those games,” Diaz said. “They had what, three, four times as many hits as we did? (Actually, it a little more than double, 16-7.) You have to give them credit. When we pitch up, the opposition takes advantage of that and they did that tonight.”
Ryan Warner started out well for the Rockies, getting through the first two innings with only two hits against him, then hit a batter to lead off the third.
“We’ve really been working on the fastball and throwing it for strikes and trying to get that first-pitch fastball for strikes and I did a pretty good job with that,” Warner said. “I’m still working with (not leaving) the ball up. That’s one thing I have to work on, keeping it low because that’s when I get hurt, when I leave it up.”
That’s what happened in the third and fourth innings.
A base hit, stolen base and a throwing error later, the Voyagers had one run in, and a fly ball to left made it 2-1.
Warner, who is 6 feet, 7 inches tall, is still adjusting his mechanics to keep the ball down in the strike zone, something a little more challenging for a guy his height.
“You’ve really got to reach out and lunge out as far as you can toward the plate,” Warner said. “When I leave it high, it’s when I’m releasing it way up. I’ve just got to reach out.”
Normally at this time of year, Warner is wrapping up two-a-day football practices — he was a standout quarterback at Pine Creek in Colorado Springs. He’s not really missing football camp, and there’s a bonus to being in Grand Junction as school gets started.
“I knew I wanted to do baseball my whole life, and being able to pitch for the Rockies, there’s nothing else I can ask for,” he said. “I’ve still got my football buddies, they’re in town playing for Mesa, so I get to talk to them and go out and see a few practices.”
A leadoff double in the fourth was the first of back-to-back hits into the right-field corner, producing another run. A heads-up defensive play by Matt Wessinger helped slow that inning, when Zachary Voight grounded to short and Thomas McCarthy, who was at second, was running on contact.
Wessinger threw to Ashley Graeter to cut down the lead runner at third, and reliever Jesse Meaux only needed one pitch to get a double play to end the fourth.
David Dahl, whose 27-game hitting streak ended Thursday, tripled to the wall in right-center and scored on a bunt by Graeter in the first.
Grand Junction (30-27, 9-10) tied the game 3-3 without the benefit of a hit in the fourth inning.
Zach Toney walked three straight batters, and groundouts by Ben Waldrip and Wilfredo Rodriguez each got a run home.
Alving Mejias, who has been sharp out of the bullpen in a piggyback role with Warner, gave up four runs on six hits — five in a row – in the seventh inning. After Wessinger corralled a chopper that ticked off Graeter’s glove for an out, Micah Johnson beat out a bunt single.
Back-to-back singles followed, then a double off the wall in left-center by Kyle Robinson for a 6-3 lead. He came home after another base hit and a sacrifice fly.
Voight hit another double off the wall in left to put runners at second and third before second baseman Juan Ciriaco made a running catch in short center to end the inning.
And true to their nature, the Rockies rallied, but just didn’t have enough. Julian Yan hit his Pioneer League-leading 14th home run of the season to right after Jeff Popick singled with two out in the eighth.
Great Falls (29-28, 5-14) tacked on another run in the ninth.
With one out in the bottom of the ninth, Wessinger singled to left, but was thrown out trying to stretch it into a double, and Dahl flied out to left.
“This group doesn’t quit,” Diaz said. “We take it one day at a time. Tomorrow is the most important day. The resiliency of this group has been phenomenal. I have no complaints.”
The Rockies fell into fourth place in the South Division, three games behind Orem in the second-half standings. The other three South teams won Friday night, but with 19 games to play, there’s still time to make another late run like the Rockies did in the first half.
“Everybody’s starting to get the feel of it,” Warner said. “Making this run toward the playoffs toward the end is key. We’ve got to put together a huge (effort from) the pitching staff and get ready to get through that and try to win us a championship.”