Rockies ride Mueller’s arm to win in Billings
It’s not like Josh Mueller is ever going to complain about his hitters putting up five runs in an inning, but Grand Junction’s productive top of the seventh Saturday night may have left him sitting on the bench too long.
After six scoreless innings, Billings got to Mueller for four runs in the seventh. But that was all the Mustangs managed, as three Rockies’ relievers blanked them the rest of the way in Grand Junction’s 7-4 win in Pioneer League play in Billings, Mont.
The Rockies evened their record at 13-13 with their third win in a row, and they sit in second place in the South Division behind Ogden (16-10).
Mueller improved his record to 2-3, and his final line was 6 1/3 innings, four runs, six hits, no walks and three strikeouts, which was similar to his other win this season, at home against Idaho Falls in his second start.
But in comparing the two wins, Mueller said, “This was definitely my best outing of the year.”
He had a no-hitter through four innings and limited the Mustangs (14-12) to two hits through six innings.
“I was keeping the ball down, throwing strikes, worked ahead, changed speeds, location in and out,” Mueller said. “Since I came back from my injury, this is the best stuff I’ve had. My velocity was up, change-up was good, curve was sharp.”
The injury was a shoulder impingement that occurred in April during Mueller’s second start for Modesto (Calif.), the Colorado Rockies’ Class A Advanced team.
Mueller said the seventh inning was probably a combination of tiring a bit and sitting for too long as Grand Junction sent eight batters to the plate in the five-run seventh inning and forced Billings to make a pitching change. Correlle Prime also had an extraordinarily long at-bat, fouling off pitches with two strikes before finally lacing a single, one of the Rockies’ five hits in the frame.
David Dahl provided the big blow in the inning, a three-run home run.
Mueller estimated he sat for nearly 30 minutes, and added, “I probably should have gotten up and thrown.”
Rockies manager Tony Diaz also cited the long wait for Mueller’s struggles in the seventh.
“He was in a good rhythm” before then, Diaz said.
Even if Mueller had a better seventh inning and the shutout was intact, his night would have ended with the conclusion of the seventh inning, Diaz said.
Raul Fernandez retired the Mustangs in order in the eighth, and Scott Oberg did likewise in the ninth, earning his team-leading fourth save and lowering his ERA to 1.29. Oberg struck out the first two batters he faced, then induced a fly ball to center to end the game.
“He’s been lights out,” Diaz said, “the bulldog mentality.”
Pitching in general has been strong for the Rockies the past three games. Until Billings scored four earned runs in the seventh, Grand Junction pitchers had gone 21 innings without surrendering an earned run. The one run the Rockies allowed in Friday’s 10-1 victory over Missoula, Mont., was unearned.
“They’ve been buying into what we’ve been wanting them to do all year, throwing strikes, pitching to contact,” Diaz said. “It’s been a pleasure to see.”
■ Dahl’s home run was his second of the season and raised his RBI total to 17, which leads the team.
■ Jose Briceno’s start at catcher was his first behind the plate this season. He had played as a designated hitter previously.
■ Saturday’s win snapped a seven-game losing streak for the Rookie League club at Billings. Those losses were as the Casper Ghosts. This trip to Billings for a four-game series is the first as the Grand Junction Rockies.