Payamps calms his nerves in U.S. debut

Joel Payamps delivers a pitch Friday in the Grand Junction Rockies’ 6-3 victory over Ogden. Payamps, a 19-year-old from Santiago, Dominican Republic, won in his first game in the United States.

Making your professional debut can be daunting.

Making your American professional debut just adds to the nerves.

Joel Payamps, a 19-year-old from Santiago, Dominican Republic, handled both Friday night for the Grand Junction Rockies.

“Ryan Kibler (the Rockies’ pitching coach) told me right away, after his first three pitches, he said, ‘OK, now we’re ready,’ ” Grand Junction manager Anthony Sanders said.

“He had some really good stuff. I was pleased with all the guys who came out of the pen. (Scott) Firth and (Carlos) Yan were good tonight.”

After a shaky first inning, Payamps was lights-out in the Rockies’ 6-3 victory over Ogden.

“After the first few pitches I threw, I wasn’t nervous any more,” Payamps said through interpreter Gabriella Diaz, the daughter of development supervisor Tony Diaz. Payamps admitted he was a “little bit” nervous when he took the mound.

He threw five innings, allowing one run on two hits. He walked four and struck out five.

Payamps walked the first batter he faced, Jesmuel Valentin, who then stole second. Hank Yates singled to center, scoring Valentin. With two out, he threw a wild pitch, getting Yates to second, but he came back to get Kyle Farmer to ground out.

That inning out of the way, Payamps struck out the side in the second and got out of a bases-loaded jam in the third.

Valentin singled and Payamps attempted to pick him off first. His throw was wide, allowing Valentin to take second. With two out, he walked the next two batters to load the bases, but Farmer grounded out to third.

Payamps signed as a free agent in 2010 and pitched the past two years in the Dominican Summer League. Last summer, he went 1-3 with a 3.29 ERA in 10 starts, with 38 strikeouts and 18 walks in 38 1/3 innings. In his first year in the DSL, he went 1-2 with a 3.02 ERA.

He got his first pro victory in the USA on Friday night, relying on his fastball, which reached 96 mph.

Adapting to a new country has gone relatively smoothly. Right now, Payamps said, the key is to “work hard and concentrate.”

Catcher Jose Briceno, who was playing in Class A Asheville (N.C.) to start the season but was sent to Grand Junction, has been a settling influence on the young pitchers. Briceno signed in 2009 and is in his third year in the United States.

Briceno said Grand Junction’s solid defense allows him to help his pitchers go after hitters aggressively. He meets each pitcher on the mound when they come into the game, reminding them of what they need to do.

“The new faces, communication is really important,” Briceno said. “(I tell them) ‘Take it easy, throw strikes. Don’t try to throw hard, throw only strikes.’ “

He remembers several jittery outings last year with young Grand Junction pitchers as the club dropped its first three games. One year later, the Rockies are 2-0 and top to bottom seem more relaxed as they head out on a six-game road trip, starting tonight at Orem.

“The pitchers this year are really, really good,” Briceno said. “These guys I think are a little more prepared from the Dominican. They worked a little bit harder. They were really ready for this season.”


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