Mound matters

Sharp pitching lifts GJ Rockies to fifth straight win

Jeff Popick rounds third base Thursday night after hitting a two-run home run in the fourth inning of the Grand Junction Rockies’ 4-3 victory over the Great Falls Voyagers at Suplizio Field. Popick’s home run backed a strong pitching performance from Matthew Carasiti and three relievers.

Bob Apodaca has been in Grand Junction this week, and at this rate, the Rockies might not let him leave any time soon.

The former pitching coach of the Colorado Rockies, who asked to be reassigned earlier this season, has witnessed some of the consistently best pitching the Rookie club has put together in the second half of the Pioneer League season.

“Kib’s (pitching coach Ryan Kibler) been talking to us about what it’s going to take to win,” reliever Patrick Johnson said. “He always talks about it’s going to have to be all of us pitching well on the same night, put that together night after night and it’s starting to sink in.”

Matt Carasiti set the tone Thursday in the Rockies’ 4-3 win over the Great Falls Voyagers, running their winning streak to five games, four straight at Suplizio Field.

“He did a nice job. He pitched ahead, pounded the zone and we played good defense,” manager Tony Diaz said. “He got a little tired and Gonzo (Rayan Gonzalez) came in and bailed him out with that runner on third base with one out. That was huge. They picked each other up.”

Great Falls, which won the Pioneer League title last summer and won the first-half title in the North Division, has struggled since, falling to 4-14 in the second half and 28-28 overall.

Conversely, the Rockies, who stumbled out of the blocks in the second half, have fought back to the top of the South Division overall standings (30-26) and are 9-9 in the second half.

They’re still trailing Orem and Idaho Falls in the all-important second-half standings. The winners of each half advance to the league playoffs.

Carasiti threw 5 1/3 shutout innings before tiring in the sixth. He ended up allowing two runs on seven hits and struck out five.

“Some days you just feel it. The past game I gave up two home runs in the first inning when I was here, it just wasn’t a good game,” Carasiti said. “And then I got skipped (because of a rainout last week) but today I felt good in the pen.

“Wess (Matt Wessinger) started off the game with a pretty good play up the middle and when you look at the scoreboard and there are no hits through four, you feel pretty good.”

Four of the seven hits against him came in the sixth, but Gonzalez picked him up with two strikeouts to end the inning, then loaded the bases in the seventh.

Johnson picked him up, allowing one run to score when he hit a batter with two out, but allowed only a leadoff double in the eighth.

“Any time you come in a game and one of your teammates has runners on, you want to help them out and it kind of gives you a little edge, plus it was a close game,” Johnson said. “I was trying to focus as much as I could and put the ball in good spots.”

And in the ninth, the Rockies gave the ball to Raul Fernandez, who earned his first save of the season by retiring all three men in quick order.

All of the Rockies’ runs came in the fourth inning and started at the bottom of the order.

Chris Cowell legged out an infield single in the hole at short, and just after he caught his breath from hustling down the line, the 6-foot-3, 215-pound catcher was off again.

Juan Ciriaco lashed a triple to the wall in center and Cowell used every inch of his long legs to score from first to break a scoreless tie.

“I try and think of myself as a little more athletic than most catchers,” Cowell said with a grin. “I’m a taller guy, not your prototypical stocky catcher. That was a huge hit by Juan to get us going. I was a little winded going first to home but definitely happy to score there.”

Wessinger singled up the middle to score Ciriaco, drew an errant pickoff throw after a couple of fake moves by Great Falls pitcher Brandon Parrent, and trotted home on a home run deep over the left-field wall by Jeff Popick.

Carasiti (3-2) spotted his fastball, got ahead of hitters and was perfect through 3 1/3 innings. He walked a man in the fourth, but erased him on a double play turned by Ciriaco, and got the first man in the fifth inning to pop out to Cowell behind the plate.

“We pitched off the fastball tonight. He worked ahead pretty much the whole game,” Cowell said. “He mixed a little bit, but pretty much got first-pitch strikes and a lot of ground-ball outs, which he always does. It helps his pitch count.

“That was pretty much the recipe for success tonight, just pounding fastballs.”

David Dahl’s league-leading 27-game hitting streak ended in an 0-for-4 night, with an uncharacteristic three strikeouts, including one with two out and the bases loaded in the seventh.

“Remarkable accomplishment, very impressive,” Diaz said. “Nothing to be ashamed of.”


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