Spot starter Norris lifts GJ Rockies to easy victory

Corey Toups of the Idaho Fall Chukars stretches as he tries to tag Luis Jean of the Grand Junction Rockies while Jean slides wide during a steal attempt in the bottom of the eighth inning of Sunday’s game at Suplizio Field. Jean was called safe with the steal.

Logan Norris started the baseball season in the bullpen in Asheville. He spent about a week in the Tri-City bullpen.

Sunday, he was a spot starter for the Grand Junction Rockies, and what a spot start.

Norris threw five shutout innings, giving up five hits and striking out three in the Rockies’ 5-1 victory over Idaho Falls at Suplizio Field.

“I’m a bullpen guy,” Norris said with a grin after picking up his first win of the season for the Rockies. “I’ve been a reliever this whole year and they needed a spot start and I was all for it. I started last year, and getting back on the mound from the get-go was a lot of fun. That was the main focus.”

That and his two-seam fastball, which he kept down in the zone, inducing ground ball after ground ball. He retired the first seven Idaho Falls batters on six ground balls and one strikeout.

“I had to keep everything below the knees,” Norris said. “With the elevation out here, you get a ball up and they tattoo it, it’s going to go a long way. If I was going to miss anything, I was going to miss down.”

His catcher, Troy Stein, kept things pretty simple, calling for that fastball. Norris said he only threw one change-up through the first three innings and finally mixed in his slider in the fourth.

“We came out with the idea we were going to establish the fastball early,” Stein said. “He’s got a great fastball and he keeps it down in the zone with a little bit of sink on it. He threw a lot of ground balls and playing here with the elevation, the more ground balls you can get the better. We played great defense behind him.”

Stein helped stake Norris to a 3-0 lead early, lacing an RBI double to right with two out in the first inning.

The double into the corner scored Max George, who got his first professional hit by lining the first pitch he saw from Bryan Brickhouse into center field.

“Exciting,” said George, who also singled in the seventh. “It’s fun out here, it’s exciting. In the past, I had trouble seeing balls and really pulling the trigger. I wanted to hit the first fastball I saw; I didn’t want to get behind in the count.”

He didn’t, and quickly stole second and took off for third on a hit and run, with Hamlet Marte grounding to short.

“We just want to stay aggressive,” Grand Junction manager Anthony Sanders said. “We have some guys who can run, so we’re trying to teach them how to steal bases and be aggressive on the base paths.”

The Rockies (5-2) have already stolen 26 bases in 37 attempts, swiping six of eight on Sunday.

Nate Causey walked ahead of Stein’s double and scored on a wild pitch. Stein came home on Wes Jones’ infield single behind second base.

“We’re trying to be as aggressive as we possibly can,” Stein said of jumping on first-pitch fastballs. “That’s what you’re going to get at this level, guys who can throw the fastball and that’s what they want to throw.”

With Norris shutting down the Chukars (2-5) through five innings, the Rockies picked up two more runs in the fifth. Marte singled and scored from first on Causey’s double into the right-field corner. Dezel Richardson singled up the middle with two out, scoring Causey.

The quick rhythm Norris had going had the defense ready to play, and the Rockies’ speed continued to play a role on defense.

Omar Carrizales made a nice running catch in deep center field in the fifth, and Richardson threw Logan Davis, the first man to reach base against Norris, trying to score from second on a base hit to right to end the third inning.

Sanders liked how Norris set the tone of the game and how the Rockies came out ready to play after a lopsided loss Saturday night.

“We talked about last night for 10 seconds in the meeting today and that’s it,” Sanders said. “It’s just like last year, everyone in this lineup when I get a card, everyone’s going to get a chance to play here. We’re going to keep mixing it up and keep everybody loose.”

The key to forgetting a bad game, Stein said, is to remember it’s just that — a game.

“Some people forget that,” the former Texas A&M catcher said. “It’s still a game, and if you come out here to have a lot of fun and play the way the kids play in Little League, you’re going to have success and a good time doing it.”

Short hops: First-round draft pick Kyle Freeland threw a bullpen session before Sunday’s game. Freeland is not scheduled to pitch in a game until mid-July because of his workload in college. ...

Rafael Betancourt, who had Tommy John surgery in September, will throw batting practice Tuesday in Denver, the big club announced Sunday. He’s expected to report to Grand Junction sometime Wednesday and will accompany the Rookie club on its road trip to Idaho Falls and Ogden, likely throwing another batting practice session. He’s expected to be in Grand Junction at least two or three weeks, moving through the Rockies’ minor league clubs as he progresses in his rehab. ...

Eddie Butler has been cleared to start throwing again today. The former GJ Rockies pitcher was sidelined after his first major league start because of shoulder inflammation, but is now on a strengthening and arm maintenance program.


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