Poor pitching in 7th inning hurts GJ Rox

OGDEN, Utah — Rookie ball is just that — rookies. And when the wheels come off, they come off big.

It happened Wednesday to the Grand Junction Rockies, who were nine outs from the first win in franchise history. It turned into the most lopsided loss in the club’s short life, 13-4 to Ogden in the final game of a three-game series. The Rockies were swept in their inaugural series.

Once again, failure to pitch ahead led to walk after walk after walk after walk … 14 times over, plus two hit batters.

It started right off the bat, when, despite having a 1-0 lead before taking the mound, Johendi Jiminian couldn’t find the strike zone. Of his first 14 pitches, 12 were balls.

“It boils down to working ahead and throwing strikes and making things happen,” Grand Junction manager Tony Diaz said. “You work behind, you walk batters, you hit batters, you’re playing with fire, and you’re bound to get burned, and we did.”

Still, Jiminian surrendered only one run on one hit and left in a 2-2 game after three innings.

“First time in the States, a lot of jitters,” Diaz said. “He’s dealing with some blisters (on his pitching hand), so there’s a lot of stuff going on. To his credit, he battled. He stranded some runners out there that could have gotten ugly. He kept us in the game the three innings he pitched.”

The game got so out of hand so quickly in the seventh inning, the Rockies’ opening-day catcher took the mound just to save arms in the bullpen. The relief staff was overworked and, other than Zach Jemiola and Rayan Gonzalez, ineffective Wednesday, especially in the fateful seventh inning, so Drew Beuerlein made his pro pitching debut.

“It’s another example right in front of them. For me it’s Beuerlein setting an example, throwing 60 miles an hour,” Diaz said. “When they put the ball in play, they only hit one ball hard. For me, that’s the biggest lesson our pitching staff can learn. We’ve got a guy throwing BP, and when they swung the bats, they only hit one ball hard, which was the home run (in the eighth).”

In the seventh, Ogden sent 15 men to the plate, and nine scored on six hits, two walks and two hit batters.

Brian Rike, who started his pro career as an outfielder and was converted to a pitcher, gave up a towering triple to right to Eric Smith to lead off the seventh after the Rockies broke a 2-2 tie in the top of the inning.

A fly ball got that run home, and Rike hit Kevin Thompson to put the tying run on base. A base hit and walk loaded the bases, and another fly ball to right scored Thompson. Another walk was it for Rike, but Raul Fernandez had even more problems.

He faced four men and didn’t record an out, hitting the first man he faced to send the go-ahead run across. Six more runs followed, four charged to Fernandez, before Beuerlein was sent in.

He got a ground ball, but it was bobbled on the line by Jason Stolz, and J.J. Ethel’s fly ball to center dropped in front of Ryan Garvey. Beuerlein walked a batter before finally ending the disaster with a fly ball to Colorado Mesa University graduate Jeff Popick in left. The Rockies 4-2 lead had disappeared into an 11-4 deficit.

Julian Yan gave the Rockies a 1-0 lead with a home run in the first, and Matt Wessinger, making his pro debut, showed why he was the club’s fifth-round draft pick. He led off the third with a base hit and stole second. Wessinger popped up and took third when the throw went into center field and, despite stumbling for a couple of steps, scored when the ball was mishandled in center.

Garvey doubled off the wall in the seventh and scored when Wessinger reached on an error to break a 2-2 tie.

Wessinger, who led St. John’s with 34 stolen bases this spring, stole his second base of the season and scored on a base hit up the middle by Juan Ciriaco.

Popick went 1 for 4 in his pro debut, with a two-out single to left field in the sixth, and handled everything hit at him in left field.

The Rockies (0-3) play at Idaho Falls today and Friday before an overnight drive back to Grand Junction for the home opener Saturday night. First-round draft pick David Dahl is slated to make his debut today as Diaz works the young players into the lineup. Patrick Johnson is slated to start for the Rockies, with another St. John’s product, sixth-round pick Matt Carasiti, the probable starter Friday.

“It’s all about pitching,” Diaz said of the Rockies ending their early skid. “You can hit all you want, it’s all about pitching. It starts and ends with pitching. We are starting the year thin, so hopefully when we go into the Idaho Falls series we’ve got a little more depth and can perform better and have a better outcome.

“They battled their butts off; we battled offensively. We put ourselves in position to win the ballgame, and it did not happen, but it’s testing our character. We’ve got to keep on plugging, keep on pumping the well.”


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