What a relief
Solid effort from pitchers lifts GJ Rockies to first win
One night after 14 walks sank Grand Junction’s hopes for its first win of the season, the Rockies’ pitchers committed another cardinal sin Thursday night. They kept allowing leadoff batters to reach base, every inning from the third through the eighth.
What they did after that, though, allowed them to celebrate their first win in their inaugural season in Grand Junction. The Rockies ended their three-game road skid by beating previously unbeaten Idaho Falls 4-3.
“It’s definitely a special feeling to get the monkey off your back, especially with how this game came down to the wire,” Rockies manager Tony Diaz said. “It was a nail-biter.”
Grand Junction sent five pitchers to the mound, each with a pitch-count limit. That’s why starter Patrick Johnson left with two outs in the third inning. He wasn’t to surpass 50 pitches. Shawn Stuart worked the next 1 1/3 innings and wasn’t to exceed 20 to 25 pitches. Ryan Warner got in some trouble in the first of his two innings, then settled down before yielding to Kyle Roliard, who pitched two scoreless frames to set up Jesse Meaux to close in the ninth.
The fact the Chukars (3-1) put their first batter on base in six straight innings didn’t bother Diaz because the way they did it was acceptable. Idaho Falls was getting hits, aside from a hit batsmen to start the third inning, and that meant Grand Junction’s pitchers were throwing strikes and allowing the Rockies’ defense to make plays.
“When you aren’t throwing strikes, we know what’s going to happen,” Diaz said. “You’re going to walk and get on base. When you make them hit the ball, we know 70 percent of the time it’s going to be an out.”
The Rockies’ pitchers kept their composure after allowing the base runners and limited the damage to one run through eight innings, mostly because they surrendered only one walk for the game. It was a drastic turnaround from the Ogden series in which Grand Junction gave up 34 runs and 23 walks.
“They outhit us (11-8), but we minimized the damage by not walking people,” Diaz said. “That’s what we did in Ogden. Every time they had a hit, it was with one or two walks on base. It’s really an uphill battle when you’re putting yourself in situations like that.”
Grand Junction took the lead in the top of the third as Matt Wessinger led off the frame with a double, and Rockies No. 1 draft pick David Dahl drove him home on a one-out ground-out to second.
Thursday night was Dahl’s debut, and although he was 0 for 3, he reached base twice, drawing a walk and getting hit by a pitch. All told, Diaz said that was a good start for the prized prospect.
“He handled himself extremely well,” Diaz said. “He had productive at-bats.”
Idaho Falls finally got on the scoreboard in the bottom of the fifth, collecting three hits for a run off Warner, who saw his first action of the season. The supplemental pick from Colorado Springs allowed a triple to the first batter he faced, Travis Lane, followed by a line-out to the second baseman and a strikeout. Seventeen-year-old Elier Hernandez, however, lined a single to center to score Lane. Warner surrendered another single, then after starting with a 3-0 count to Rainier Bello, he ran the count full and got Bello to ground out to the first baseman.
The Rockies answered with two runs in the sixth, aided by a error by pitcher Alec Mills on a throw to second for a possible double play. Instead of ending the inning, it allowed Jason Stolz to hit a two-run double to the wall, scoring Julian Yan and Ben Waldrip for a 3-1 lead. Stolz moved to third on a wild pitch, but was stranded there.
“(Stolz) was one of the highlights offensively,” Diaz said. “He hit a big, big, two-run double. Then he hit the ball that the shortstop made an error (bringing in a run), and that also was a huge play for us.”
The latter gave Grand Junction a 4-1 lead, which it needed.
Meaux stopped the Chukars’ streak of leadoff batters reaching base, but 16-year-old Adalberto Mondesi, son of former Major Leaguer Raul Mondesi, doubled, then scored on a ground-out. Hernandez survived a two-strike check swing that would have ended the game, then sliced a double down the right-field line. He scored on a single by cleanup hitter Nicholas Cuckovich.
Meaux ended the rally by getting Rainier Bello to ground to second.
“The biggest thing is he did not walk anybody,” Diaz said of Meaux. “He made them earn it. He made some good pitches, kept his composure.”
Grand Junction wraps up its first-ever road trip tonight. Matt Carasiti will get the start for the Rockies.