Aggressive base running helps GJ sweep Helena
It was almost like a scene from a Little League game, the base runner dancing off second, chanting “nyah-nyah-nyah-nyah-nyah-nyah!” daring the catcher to throw down.
Matt Wessinger was almost halfway between second and third, and although he didn’t have his thumbs in his ears, wagging his hands, he was just waiting for his chance.
“That’s something that gets lost throughout the year,” Wessinger said of the daring nature of his base running. “We’re at a higher level, (people think) we can’t do that kind of stuff, but the reality is: It’s what gets people off their game a little bit. And if that’s what it takes to win, you’ve gotta do what it takes.”
The first time, Helena catcher Paul Eshleman held the ball, looking Wessinger back to second.
Wessinger, who broke up a perfect three innings by pitcher Leonard Lorenzo with a bunt single to lead off the fourth inning Wednesday, wasn’t done.
He stole third, and when Eshleman’s throw went into left field, he scored the first run of the Grand Junction Rockies’ 5-4 victory.
“I love his aggressiveness,” Grand Junction manager Tony Diaz said. “Sometimes you’re going to get burned, but you know what, when the opposition knows he’s going to put pressure on, it’s an advantage for us. Tonight was big proof. He stole two bases, a bad throw. One hit and we’ve got one run.”
The next inning, it was David Dahl’s turn to double-dog dare Eshleman. This time, the catcher took the bait and snapped a throw to second, but no one covered. Dahl easily scored from second for the Rockies’ final run of the game. The two speedy Rockies had done their jobs, wreaking havoc on the bases.
Dahl had doubled home Wessinger in the fifth after Max White hit his second home run in as many games, this one a shot to right field, his third home run of the season. The double gave Dahl at least one hit in 27 straight games; the Pioneer League record is 32, set in 2006.
The Rockies’ aggressive base running backed Johendi Jiminian (1-2), who, after giving up hits to the first three batters of the game, settled in for his first win of the season.
“It was definitely a growth outing for him his previous outings,” Diaz said. “He’s melted down when things don’t go his way, and not many things have gone his way yet. He was able to regain his composure and gave us four scoreless innings, which was huge.”
Jiminian has struggled with his control all season, first partly because of blisters on his pitching hand, but then just staying up in the strike zone. He was throwing his fastball in the mid-90s, but early he was still up in the zone, and the Brewers jumped on him for two runs on three hits.
After that, Jiminian allowed only three more hits through his five innings. He walked two, down significantly from earlier outings, and struck out five.
“He was up and flat and then had to start mixing his pitches a little bit better. That’s a pretty aggressive ballclub, and he was just throwing fastballs, elevated in the zone, and that’s not a good combination,” Diaz said. “Once he started mixing his pitches up with change-ups and curveballs, he got them guessing a little bit.”
He also picked off a runner at first and didn’t allow a base runner past second after the first two men scored. The Rockies were outhit 10-7 by Helena, but they executed with men on base.
Jeremy McLeod, who replaced Julian Yan after the starting right fielder was benched for not running out a third strike in the dirt, singled on a hit-and-run in the fourth that set up the tying run.
Ben Waldrip followed with a double to right to score Jeff Popick. McLeod was waved around but was thrown out on a close play at the plate.
Shawn Stuart threw two scoreless innings, Mike Mason got the Rockies out of a jam in the eighth after Brian Rike walked the two batters he faced, and Scott Oberg survived the ninth, allowing two runs on three straight two-out hits.
It was the first three-game sweep of the season for the Rockies (28-26, 8-9), who appear to be surging after a slow start to the second half.
They’re tied with Ogden for first place overall in the South Division but are still third in the second-half standings, three games behind Orem.
“For some reason the first half of the season we started off slow, the second half same thing,” Wessinger said. “Who knows? It looks like we’re starting to pick it up again.”