Nunez’s bat lifts GJ Rox to key win
Dom Nunez has learned to be patient at the plate and wait for his pitch.
He got that pitch three times Tuesday night with runners in scoring position and delivered every time.
The Grand Junction Rockies catcher went 3 for 4 and drove in a career-high five runs in a 13-5 Pioneer League victory over Billings at Suplizio Field. It was the Rockies’ sixth straight win, a season high, and kept them in first place in the South Division in the second half. Grand Junction is 33-20 overall, 10-5 in the second half.
“It’s all coming together right now,” Grand Junction manager Anthony Sanders said. “That’s a good ball team we beat out here tonight. Some key hits for us today, Nunez a couple of two-out RBI, (Luis) Jean and even little (Wilson) Soriano coming in late tonight and got a big hit.”
Nunez doubled home the Rockies’ first run of the game in the first inning, then laced two-run singles to right field in each of the sixth and seventh innings.
“Definitely, I’m locked in,” said Nunez, in his second year of Rookie ball, but his first year catching. “It’s pretty much see ball, hit ball. Guys got on base in front of me, and they’ve got me in the three-hole, and I’m trying to take care of business and put runs on the board.”
His hitting was part of Grand Junction’s 13-hit attack, which allowed the Rockies to answer every time Billings put runs on the board. The Mustangs (26-28, 9-7) committed four errors to help Grand Junction extend innings.
Down 4-3 in the sixth, the Rockies used some small ball to set up a big inning. Kevin Padlo walked, Roberto Ramos was hit by a pitch, and Terry McClure bunted, but a throwing error by Billings catcher Garrett Boulware allowed McClure to reach base and scored Padlo.
Jean beat out an infield single, scoring Ramos, and Wes Rogers bunted the runners over, setting up Nunez with two out.
His base hit to right made it 7-4, and in the seventh, after the Rockies scored two when Jean punched a base hit into center, Nunez again came up with runners in scoring position.
With the runners on the move, Nunez lined a fastball from Fabian Roman into right field again, and it was 11-5.
“I got something I could drive,” Nunez said. “I battled a couple of pitches off, took the slider in the dirt on a check swing and just locked in. It was one of those nights I was seeing a balloon up there.
“Fastball full count, I kind of knew it was coming, and if it was something else, I was just going to adjust and foul it off and get my fastball.”
Soriano, who replaced McClure in the eighth, hit a two-run single to center in the eighth inning, but he was thrown out trying to stretch it into a double. McClure is working his way back from a shoulder injury.
Grand Junction got solid pitching, with starter James Lomangino striking out five in 4 1/3 innings. He struggled in the second inning, allowing two runs, and gave up a solo home run in the third before being relieved by Logan Norris. Norris picked up his fifth win of the season, allowing one run on two hits in 1 2/3 innings, and Gavin Glantz and Garrett Schlecht closed things out.
“Guys out of the bullpen came in and did what they had to do,” Sanders said.
The Rockies, the youngest team in the Pioneer League, have settled into their roles in the second half and are playing relaxed, confident baseball.
“I told you the first game of the second half, we love this game, we can win,” said designated hitter Hamlet Marte, who went 3 for 5 with two doubles and scored two runs.
“We have the same plan, with the same approach at the plate, the pitchers have the same approach. We just do our job. The team is good. We are comfortable, and we know we can do it. I think that’s why we are relaxed. We know we can do it.”
The Suplizio Field grounds crew mowed “17” into the infield, flanking the pitcher’s mound, in honor of Todd Helton, whose jersey number will be retired this weekend in Denver. Helton made a rehab appearance with the GJ Rockies in 2012. Grand Junction will keep 17 as an active number, however.
■ Marte is sporting a new look, with close-cropped hair instead of his curls. It wasn’t planned, though.
“I went to the barber shop and told him how to cut my hair, and he cut it all off,” Marte said. “I was mad. What happened to my hair? I miss my hair.”
■ Tonight the Rockies will celebrate the upcoming Palisade Peach Festival. Vendors will sell peach salsa, peach relish and Graff Dairy’s peach ice cream.