Marten Gasparini provides spark in Chukars’ 11-7 win

Idaho Falls Chukars shortstop Marten Gasparini tags out Brendon Sanger, of the Orem Owlz, as Sanger tries to slide into second base Wednesday at Melaleuca Field. (Pat Sutphin / psutphin@postregister.com)
Idaho Falls Chukars shortstop Marten Gasparini tags out Brendon Sanger, of the Orem Owlz, as Sanger tries to slide into second base Wednesday at Melaleuca Field. (Pat Sutphin / psutphin@postregister.com)

By VICTOR FLORES
vflores@postregister.com

In the bottom of the seventh inning, Marten Gasparini fouled a ball off of his right ankle. He grimaced and limped, but he stepped back into the batter’s box.

Two pitches later, the Idaho Falls Chukars’ shortstop hit another ball off of his right ankle. This time, he fell to the ground.

“It couldn’t have been more accurate the second time it hit,” Gasparini said.

But Gasparini limped back into the box. On the next pitch, he lined a single to center field.

“The adrenaline kept me going,” Gasparini said.

The Italian switch-hitter followed up a 2 for 4 performance on Tuesday against the Orem Owlz with a 3 for 4, two-triple performance against Orem on Wednesday. He was a key cog in the Chukars’ 11-7 win Wednesday at Melaleuca Field.

“We wanted this game really bad,” Gasparini said. “My effort today was just one of many.”

Gasparini told the Post Register after Tuesday’s game that he was hard on himself in the first half. He was overthinking. The results showed: a team-low .276 on-base percentage, Pioneer League-highs in errors (17) and strikeouts (56).

Thanks to some advice and counseling from his coaches, Gasparini — the Kansas City Royals’ 18th best prospect, according to MLB Pipeline — believes he’s in a better head space, and the early results (two games into the second half) have shown.

“He’s a great kid, he’s a hard worker, he’s always asking questions and trying to get better,” Chukars’ manager Justin Gemoll said. “Now you’re seeing the results on the field.”

Gasparini’s first triple came in the bottom of the fourth. It drove in two runs and gave the Chukars a 3-2 lead in what would be a five-run inning. Gasparini drove in another run with his second triple in the Chukars’ four-run fifth inning, when they took a 9-3 lead.

Gasparini did have two errors in the game, however.

Chukars’ left-handed pitcher Hunter Haynes made his first start in 20 days, and it began like his first five.

Haynes gave up two runs in the top of the first, albeit one earned run due to a Gasparini error. Haynes gave up four or five earned runs in each of his previous five starts, where his ERA was 11.50. He moved to the bullpen for three appearances, where his ERA was 4.50 (Gemoll said Haynes’ move to the bullpen was not performance-based, but due to rest and Idaho Falls’ new pitchers).

Haynes settled down after the first, pitching three straight scoreless innings on two hits and a walk. He struck out a batter in his four innings, and his ERA fell from 9.35 to 8.40.

Idaho Falls Chukars second baseman D.J. Burt throws to first during a game against the Orem Owlz on Wednesday at Melaleuca Field. (Pat Sutphin / psutphin@postregister.com)
Idaho Falls Chukars second baseman D.J. Burt throws to first during a game against the Orem Owlz on Wednesday at Melaleuca Field. (Pat Sutphin / psutphin@postregister.com)

“I was just more relaxed,” Haynes said. “When I’m relaxed, I can trust what I’m able to do and locate better. Early in the year, I put too pressure on myself early. After a couple outings in the bullpen, it made it a little easier to come back and start a game because I didn’t have to get popped so early.”

The Chukars compiled 15 hits and every hitter reached base, with five having multi-hit games. Those five were second baseman D.J. Burt (2 for 5, three runs), right fielder Amalani Fukofuka (2 for 5), Roman Collins (2 for 5), designated hitter Brawlun Gomez (2 for 4) and third baseman Jeckson Flores (2 for 4, double).

The Chukars (14-26) host the Ogden Raptors (20-20) for a two-game series starting tonight at 7:15 p.m.

Chukars fall just short against Orem

Idaho Falls' Marten Gasparini makes the tag on Orem's Michael Pierson during Tuesday night's game at Melaleuca Field. (Monte LaOrange / mlaorange@postregister.com)
Idaho Falls’ Marten Gasparini makes the tag on Orem’s Michael Pierson during Tuesday night’s game at Melaleuca Field. (Monte LaOrange / mlaorange@postregister.com)

By VICTOR FLORES
vflores@postregister.com

Cody Jones thought he was going to tie the game with an inside-the-park home run.

The Idaho Falls center fielder hit a line drive to center in the bottom of the ninth inning of Tuesday’s game against the Orem Owlz, who led 5-4 with two outs at the time. The ball slipped under Michael Hermosillo’s glove and rolled to the wall. Jones, arguably the fastest Chukars player, had been hustling out of the batter’s box.

Manager and third base coach Justin Gemoll didn’t hesitate to send Jones home. But the relay throw reached home plate well before Jones did, and catcher Taylor Ward tagged Jones out to end the game.

Jones knelt at home plate for seconds after the out, hands on his head.

“It sucks to end the game like that,” Jones said.

The Chukars (13-26) were aggressive all night at Melaleuca Field, but the first game of the season’s second half ended like so many games from Idaho Falls’ first half: a little short.

“If I could do it again, I’d do it again,” Gemoll said of the final play. “Force them to make a play, and they did. Hats off to them.”

Idaho Falls' Derek Gordon delivers a pitch during Tuesday night's game at Melaleuca Field. (Monte LaOrange / mlaorange@postregister.com)
Idaho Falls’ Derek Gordon delivers a pitch during Tuesday night’s game at Melaleuca Field. (Monte LaOrange / mlaorange@postregister.com)

Derek Gordon continued his strong season. The right-handed pitcher went seven innings (84 pitches), giving up two runs (both earned) on nine hits and one walk with two strikeouts. His outing is the longest by any Chukars pitcher this season. Idaho Falls’ previous longest was the six-inning start June 28 by Carlos Herrera, who was released by the Kansas City Royals on July 16.

Gordon has not given up more than two earned runs in any of his last four starts. His season ERA is now 3.68, and he’s pitched the most innings (36.2) of any Idaho Falls pitcher. Chukars pitching coach Jeff Suppan has been impressed with Gordon’s ability to keep his pitches down in the strike zone.

“He throws his fastball to both sides of the plate,” Suppan said. “Tonight, his slider was not as good early but it got better late. That’s the patience part of it.”

Chukars shortstop Marten Gasparini is hoping the second half will reboot his performance.

The 18-year-old finished the first half with a team-worst .276 on-base percentage and Pioneer League-highs in errors (17) and strikeouts (56). He had multi-hit performances in seven of the Chukars’ 38 first-half games.

“I was being kind of hard on myself, I was thinking too much,” Gasparini said.

On Tuesday, Gasparini went 2 for 4, including a two-out triple in the bottom of the fourth to tie the game 1-1.

“I’ve talked a lot with my coaches about my mindset in general,” Gasparini said. “Me and us, as a team, in the second half must restart. Restart our mindset, forget about the past, keep going forward with a positive mindset. That’s what I tried to do today. Just keep it simple and put my barrel on the ball.”

Charlie Chukar signs autographs during a break in the action at Melaleuca Field Tuesday night. (Monte LaOrange / mlaorange@postregister.com)
Charlie Chukar signs autographs during a break in the action at Melaleuca Field Tuesday night. (Monte LaOrange / mlaorange@postregister.com)

Jones went 4 for 5, upping his batting average to .325 in 77 at-bats with Idaho Falls. He also hit his first triple since joining the Chukars on July 4. He was a bad throw away from getting his first home run with the team, and his first inside-the-parker since he was a kid.

The Chukars have now lost eight games by two runs or fewer this season.

The Pioneer League South Division’s first-half champion Owlz (25-14) go for a three-game series sweep of the Chukars at 7:15 tonight.

First half ends with silent bats for Chukars

By JEFF PINKHAM
jpinkham@postregister.com

A rough first half of the Pioneer League season ended with a thud for the Idaho Falls Chukars on Monday at Melaleuca Field.

The Chukars wrapped up a rough opening stretch with another loss, falling 5-0 to the South Division first-half champion Orem Owlz in front of a crowd of 1,566 fans on a chilly night at the ballpark. Idaho Falls finished the first half with a 13-25 record, 11 games behind Orem and six games behind third-place Ogden in the four-team South Division.

Idaho Falls’ offense was as cold as the breeze blowing in at Melaleuca. The Chukars managed just a walk from Roman Collins in the first, a Collins single off the foot of Orem pitcher Jeff Malm in the fourth and a walk from Marten Gasparini in the fifth. Orem also turned two double plays and the Chukars finished with just one man left on base — Gasparini made it to third with two outs before Ryan Dale struck out to end I.F.’s lone threat.

“You have to tip your hat to their guys,” Idaho Falls manager Justin Gemoll said. “They established the fastball early, they changed speeds and they kept us off-balance all night. We hit a few balls hard right at somebody. Other than that we really didn’t get a chance to get anything going.”

Four Owlz combined on the one-hitter. Starter Jared Ruxer pitched a hitless first, followed by five dominant innings from lefty Jeff Malm (one hit, one walk, six strikeouts). Aaron Cox (two innings) and Ronnie Glenn (one inning) finished it off.

Collins, a 2015 fifth-round draft pick out of Florida Atlantic, had the lone hit for I.F. His soft liner up the middle caught the foot of Malm and bounced to the right of shortstop Juan Moreno, who stopped the ball with a dive but couldn’t get Collins at first. The only other close call came in the sixth, when second baseman Hutton Moyer made a nice play on a hard-hit ball by Cody Jones.

Fortunately for the Chukars, today is a new day. The Pioneer League awards playoff berths to the first half and second half division winners, meaning Idaho Falls’ rough first half can quickly be forgotten.

“Let’s come back in the second half and get after it,” Gemoll said. “These guys are all competitors and they’re anxious to get to the playoffs. They’ll come out like gangbusters tomorrow.”

Idaho Falls and Orem play the second game of their three-game series at 7:15 tonight at Melaleuca Field. Ogden hits town to begin a quick two-game series Thursday.

SUNDAY’S GAME: The Chukars got a strong start from Todd Eaton and avoided a sweep in Orem, Utah, with a 4-2 victory over the South Division first-half champs.

Idaho Falls got an early lead when Cody Jones knocked home Ryan Dale, who led off the third with a triple. The Owlz tied the game on Kenny Towns RBI single in the fifth.

The Chukars regained the lead in the sixth, getting a leadoff double from Amalani Fukofuka and an RBI single from Roman Collins. Logan Nottebrok added a two-run single later in the inning.

Eaton was solid, giving up one unearned run on four hits with one walk and two strikeouts in five innings. Second-round pick Josh Staumont allowed an earned run on three hits over 2.2 innings, while Brandon Thomas notched his first save with 1.1 innings of scoreless relief.

Three Chukars named All-Stars

First baseman Josh Banuelos, outfielder Amalani Fukofuka and relief pitcher Tripp Davis will represent the Idaho Falls Chukars as reserves at the first Pioneer League/Northwest League Midsummer Classic, scheduled for Aug. 4 in Spokane.

Banuelos has been a force at the plate, leading the Pioneer League with 34 RBIs. Banuelos, of Hanford, Calif., is hitting .338 with 47 hits.

Fukofuka’s name is sprinkled throughout the list of Pioneer League leaders. The Hayward, Calif., native is hitting a team-high .350, good for fourth in the league. He is second in the league with 70 total bases, tied for second with 50 hits, tied for third with 12 doubles and tied for fourth with four triples.

Davis has been a bright spot on the mound, leading the Chukars with two wins while posting a 4.05 ERA in eight appearances. He had an 0.71 ERA in his first 16.2 innings.

Alexis Rivera, who started the year in Idaho Falls, also was selected to the All-Star squad but has since been promoted to Single-A Lexington and won’t play in the game. When he left the Chukars three weeks ago, Rivera led the league in home runs (7), RBIs (17) and OPS (1.233). His home run total is still tied for third in the league.

Orem placed three players on the Pioneer League starting lineup (catcher Taylor Ward, third baseman Michael Pierson and outfielder Kyle Survance) and one more reserve. Missoula led the way with five selections.

For a full list of the All-Stars, visit http://www.milb.com/news/article.jsp?ymd=20150727&content_id=139048830&fext=.jsp&vkey=news_l128&sid=l128.

Chukars Notebook: I.F. hitters explain walk-up songs

Idaho Falls Chukars first baseman Josh Banuelos hits a fly ball to center field during the first inning of the game against the Missoula Osprey July 17 at Melaleuca Field. (Pat Sutphin / psutphin@postregister.com)
Idaho Falls Chukars first baseman Josh Banuelos hits a fly ball to center field during the first inning of the game against the Missoula Osprey July 17 at Melaleuca Field. (Pat Sutphin / psutphin@postregister.com)

By VICTOR FLORES
vflores@postregister.com

A smile was absent from Josh Banuelos’ face as he approached home plate two springs ago.

Banuelos was making his first home plate appearance of the 2014 baseball season, his redshirt junior season for Fresno Pacific University. Banuelos felt nervous that his new introduction song was “Fantasy” by Mariah Carey.

The 1995 R&B song fits awkwardly in baseball’s macho culture, so Banuelos expected some perplexed reactions. That song? Really?

So he was surprised when he returned to the dugout after his at-bat.

“All of the guys were like, ‘That song is tight,’” Banuelos said. “I was like, ‘If they like it, I know it’s a good song.’”

Banuelos has walked up to “Fantasy” ever since, including the 17 home games he’s played for the Idaho Falls Chukars this season. The first baseman’s song choice taps into the layered world of baseball hitters’ walk-up songs.

“It makes you smile, you’re relaxed and I’ve had success with it,” Banuelos said of “Fantasy.” “I don’t want to change things up.”

Walk-up songs appear in professional leagues all the way down to high school. The songs run for about 30 seconds before each hitter’s plate appearance, and they’re only played for the home team. But some players draw a line between walk-up song and results.

Banuelos had a .378 batting average, a .432 on-base percentage and a .575 slugging percentage for Fresno Pacific last season. His batting average is .343 for Idaho Falls this season.

In other words, Banuelos has excelled since he started walking up to “Fantasy,” and he doesn’t think that’s coincidental.

Banuelos mainly chose “Fantasy” because he likes it, just like DJ Burt. The Chukars second baseman walks up to “My Way” by the rapper Fetty Wap. He started using it this season, and he only chose it because it’s a song he regularly listens to.

Idaho Falls outfielder Amalani Fukofuka also walks up to a Fetty Wap song (“Again”). His reasoning is similar to Burt’s, but it also helps his performance, he said.

“When you have a catchy beat walking up to the plate, it gives you a little rhythm,” Fukofuka said. “You have to stay relaxed.”

Chukars third baseman Ryan Dale disagrees. He walked up to Darude’s “Sandstorm” for most of the season and now walks up to a different techno song, Disclosure’s “You & Me” (remixed by Flume). Other than the home ties (Dale, Darude and Flume are all Australian), Dale likes to get pumped up before each plate appearance. “Sandstorm” and “You & Me” fulfill that requirement.

The Kansas City Royals’ mental skills coach Freddy Sandoval walked up to Guns N’ Roses’ “Sweet Child O’ Mine” in college and during his 10-year playing career in the Los Angeles Angels organization. But the song was not used to pump him up.

“That was the first song I listened to when I met my wife,” Sandoval said. “It puts me in a happy place.”

Sandoval’s agrees with Banuelos and Fukofuka about the purpose of walk-up songs — to be relaxed and positive.

“Music alone can retrieve a lot of information from your past,” Sandoval said. “If a player chooses a song that reminds him of negative thoughts or negative situations, it’s detrimental to what he’s trying to achieve.”

Banuelos still gets some negative reactions to “Fantasy.” But it brings a smile to his face, and that’s all he cares about.

“As long as I’m in baseball, I’ll probably stay with that song,” Banuelos said.

CHUKARS’ WALK-UP SONGS

  • Josh Banuelos — “Fantasy” by Mariah Carey
  • DJ Burt — “My Way” by Fetty Wap
  • Roman Collins — “Vampire” by Tribal Seeds
  • Ryan Dale — “You & Me” by Disclosure (Flume remix)
  • Nick Dini — “Epic Sax Guy” aka Sergey Stepanov (via YouTube)
  • Jeckson Flores — “Fireball” by Pitbull
  • Amalani Fukofuka — “Again” by Fetty Wap
  • Marten Gasparini — “Heart Upon My Sleeve” by Avicii
  • Pedro Gonzalez — “Farruka” by Chapi Chapi
  • Brawlun Gomez — “Aposento Alto” by Quien Vive
  • Cody Jones — “Sweet Emotion” by Aerosmith
  • Logan Nottebrok — “Tops Drop” by Fat Pat
  • Kyle Pollock — “Savior” by Andrew Ripp

Orem player’s connection to the Royals

The Chukars and Orem Owlz were tied 2-2 in the bottom of the seventh inning on July 6. Idaho Falls center fielder Cody Jones faced Orem’s left-handed pitcher Tyler Watson with a runner on first and one out.

On a full count, Watson threw a changeup. Jones softly hit the pitch into right field for an RBI double. The run was the difference in Idaho Falls’ 4-2 win.

“If there was one person in this league who would throw a 3-2 changeup to me, it would be him,” Jones said. “He’ll pitch backwards, and he’s good at it.”

Jones didn’t know this purely based on scouting. He played with and against Watson since childhood. Jones, by association, has also know Watson’s father, Gene Watson. Gene currently serves as the director of professional scouting for Kansas City, Idaho Falls’ MLB affiliate.

The two played little league baseball in Austin, Texas, from about 7 years old until high school. Jones played for Stony Point and Watson played for Georgetown (both schools are in Austin suburbs).

Jones attended Texas Christian University, and Watson went to McLennan Junior College in Waco, Texas. Watson was drafted in the 38th round of the 2014 MLB draft by the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. The Royals selected Jones in the sixth round of the 2015 draft.

Jones and Watson’s Rookie-level teams face each other 16 times this season, including a four-game series wrapping up today in Orem.

“I texted him last night — I told him if he needed anything while he was here, let me know,” Watson said on Saturday. “He said he needed a vehicle and a fishing pole. I said, ‘Alright, bud, I’m on my way.’”

Gene Watson hasn’t seen Orem play yet this season, but he plans to make a trip out in a couple of weeks to see his son play. He missed Watson throw 3.1 scoreless innings against the Chukars on Saturday.

Gene wouldn’t say who he roots for when the Chukars and Owlz play. All he said was how bizarre it feels to watch those games.

“It’s really strange to see the players we talk about every day and know that your kid is in the other dugout,” Gene said.

Roster move

On Monday, right-handed pitcher Brooks Pounders was promoted from Idaho Falls to the Advanced Single-A Wilmington Blue Rocks.

Pounders, who was on a rehabilitation assignment, pitched three scoreless innings for Idaho Falls in his July 16 start. He posted a 4.80 ERA in 15 innings for the Chukars last season.

Who’s hot?

LHP Brandon Thomas

Thomas has been the Chukars most consistent relief pitcher this season. He’s pitched the third most innings (27.0) of any Idaho Falls pitcher despite making only one start (on July 12, when he allowed three earned runs in five innings). Thomas has given up one home run and 12 walks against 23 strikeouts, and his season ERA is 2.00.

Who’s not?

LHP Tripp Davis

The side-armer threw 10.1 innings without an earned run to start the season. That streak ended on July 15, when he gave up a walkoff solo home run to Missoula’s Luke Lowery. Davis pitched 2.1 scoreless innings three days later against Great Falls, but he was shelled by Orem on Friday. Davis gave up seven runs (five earned) on six hits and a walk in 0.2 innings pitched against the Owlz. His season ERA is now 4.05.

Chukars suffer second walkoff loss in three games

Another night, another walkoff loss for the Idaho Falls Chukars.

The Chukars lost a 2-0 lead to the Orem Owlz on Saturday, then forced a 5-5 tie in the eighth inning. But the Owlz walked off for the second time in three nights, winning 6-5 at Brent Brown Stadium. The win gave Orem the first half title crown in the Pioneer League South Division.

Idaho Falls lost on a walkoff double to Orem on Thursday, and the narrative from that game was similar to Saturday’s: good starting pitching, good hitting and struggles with runners on base.

The Chukars had 17 hits on Saturday, but they went 4 for 15 with runners in scoring position and left 10 runners on.

Idaho Falls took a 2-0 lead through four innings on 11 hits, but could’ve scored more.

The Chukars scored once in the first on an RBI single from first baseman Josh Banuelos (2 for 4, walk). Left fielder Roman Collins (3 for 5) hit an infield single, but center fielder Amalani Fukofuka (1 for 4, walk) was thrown out at home plate on the play. Shortstop Marten Gasparini (1 for 5, triple) struck out in the next at-bat, stranding runners at first and second base.

The Chukars led off the next inning with two singles, but third baseman Ryan Dale (1 for 4) hit into a double play and center fielder Cody Jones (2 for 4) grounded out to end the inning.

Gasparini struck out again to end the third inning, only this time, he stranded runners at second and third base.

The Chukars held the 2-0 lead into the seventh, but left-handed reliever Hunter Haynes gave up five unearned runs, which stemmed from a Gasparini error.

Idaho Falls immediately answered the next inning, scoring three runs. The Chukars tied the game on an RBI double from Jones.

But right-handed Alberto Rodriguez couldn’t preserve the tie in the bottom of the ninth, giving up a walk, a stolen base and an RBI single to end the game.

Idaho Falls starting pitcher Daniel Concepcion pitched five scoreless innings in his third start for the Chukars. The right-hander gave up three hits and a walk with two strikeouts, and his season ERA dropped to 2.38.

Desginated hitter Nick Dini went 3 for 4 with a double, catcher Pedro Gonzalez went 2 for 3 with a double and second baseman DJ Burt went 2 for 5.

The Owlz (23-13) will attempt to sweep their four-game series against the Chukars (12-24) today at 4:15 p.m.

Fourth inning derails Chukars in 10-4 loss to Orem

The Idaho Falls Chukars looked like they’d weather another shaky start from left-handed pitcher Dylan Sons.

Drew Milligan was excellent in relief of Sons, preserving a 3-3 lead headed into the fourth inning.

But fellow lefty Tripp Davis couldn’t replicate Milligan’s success, and the defense committed two errors, resulting in a seven-run fourth inning for Orem. That’s all the Owlz would need in a 10-4 win Friday night at Brent Brown Ballpark.

The Chukars scored first, plating two on doubles from left fielder Roman Collins and right fielder Amalani Fukofuka, who drove in both runs.

But Sons had another poor first inning, only this time, he didn’t advance to the second. Sons gave up three runs (all earned) on one hit and two walks by the time he was replaced by Milligan with two outs in the opening frame. Sons had gone at least three innings in his previous six starts.

In six of his seven starts this season, Sons has given up at least one run in the first inning. He’s allowed an average of 2.14 runs in the opening frame. His season ERA is now 10.80 on 53 hits, 14 walks and 21 strikeouts in 26.2 innings pitched.

The Chukars tied the game in the second inning. Second baseman Jeckson Flores reached on a fielder’s choice, stole his ninth base of the season and scored on a single by center fielder Cody Jones, who went 3 for 4 on the night.

The side-armer Davis relieved Milligan to start the fourth. Davis gave up a run early, but he got two outs with a runner on third. The next five batters he faced: walk, single, double, single, single. Four runs scored in that span, and Davis was relieved by right-hander Brian Bayliss.

Two more runs scored off errors by shortstop Marten Gasparini (who leads the Pioneer League with 15 errors) and Flores, completing Idaho Falls’ miserable fourth.

Milligan, Bayliss and lefty Matt Portland combined to throw 6.2 scoreless innings on six hits, two walks (both by Milligan) and six strikeouts. Portland didn’t allow a baserunner in his 2.1 innings pitched.

Fukofuka went 2 for 3 with a walk, Logan Nottebrok went 2 for 4 and Gasparini went 1 for 4 with a triple.

The Chukars (12-22) face the Owlz (22-13) in the third game of their-four game series tonight at 7:15 p.m.

Chukars play well but lose to Orem 3-2 in walkoff fashion

The Idaho Falls Chukars committed few mistakes against the Orem Owlz on Thursday night.

But a couple of bad pitches and a passed ball spelled the Chukars’ doom in their 3-2 loss, which Orem won in walkoff fashion at Brent Brown Ballpark.

The Chukars got on the board first in the top of the first inning. Shortstop Jeckson Flores hit a leadoff double to left field and moved to third on a sacrifice bunt by second baseman DJ Burt. Two batters later, first baseman Josh Banuelos reached on an error by left fielder Jared Foster, allowing Flores to score.

But the lead quickly disappeared. Three singles and two stolen bases off Chukars starting pitcher Derek Gordon resulted in a 2-1 lead for Orem after the first.

Gordon.
Gordon.

Gordon settled down after the slow start. On the night, he gave up four hits, one walk and two earned runs with six strikeouts in five innings. In his last three starts, Gordon has gone 15.1 innings, giving up 13 hits, four earned runs and six walks with 20 strikeouts (2.38 ERA). Gordon’s season ERA is now 3.94, and he’s in the top five among Pioneer League pitchers in strikeouts.

The Chukars tied the game in the sixth. Left fielder Roman Collins led the inning off with a double and scored on a one-out sacrifice fly by right fielder Brawlun Gomez.

In the bottom of the ninth, Chukars left-handed reliever Nick Green should have retired the side in order. Green struck out the first batter looking and got the second batter, Hutton Moyer, to swing at strike three, but catcher Kyle Pollock couldn’t handle the pitch. The passed ball allowed Moyer to advance to first.

Green got the next batter to pop out, bringing up Foster with two outs and Moyer at first. Foster doubled to center field, and the throw home was not in time to get Moyer out, giving Orem the walkoff win.

Idaho Falls outhit Orem 8-6 and didn’t commit a fielding error, while the Owlz committed four. But the Chukars were 0 for 15 with runners in scoring position and left 10 men on base.

Flores and Pollock each went 2 for 4, while Gomez and third baseman Ryan Dale each went 1 for 3 with a double.

The Chukars (12-22) and the Owlz (21-13) play game two tonight at 7:15 p.m.

Chukars can’t solve Great Falls’ starting pitcher in 5-2 loss

By VICTOR FLORES
vflores@postregister.com

The Idaho Falls Chukars have scored the Pioneer League’s third most runs per game, at 6.6.

On Tuesday night, right-hander Brannon Easterling made the Chukars look colder than Billings (4.9 runs per game).

Easterling was Tuesday’s starting pitcher for the Great Falls Voyagers. Great Falls’ offense wasn’t superb, but it didn’t matter. Easterling gave up one run in six innings, leading the Voyagers (16-13) to a 5-2 win in the series finale at Melaleuca Field.

The Chukars split the four-game series and went 5-2 on the homestand.

“Hats off to the starting pitcher,” Chukars hitting coach Andre David said. “He was on tonight. You give him credit, and you move on from that.”

Chukars starting pitcher Carter Hope gave up two runs in the first inning, and while he was only charged for one, he had a large hand in both.

Hope gave up a leadoff double to Landon Lassiter, who scored on a fielding error by Hope. A double and a sacrifice fly allowed another run, scored by Johan Cruz, who reached on Hope’s error.

Otherwise, Hope was excellent. The righty went five innings, giving up three runs (one earned) on eight hits, one walk and two strikeouts. His ERA dropped to 2.03 in 13.1 innings with Idaho Falls.

But Hope was overshadowed by Easterling, who allowed one earned run on four hits, no walks and four strikeouts. A solo home run from Chukars catcher Kyle Pollock (1 for 4) was responsible for Easterling’s only run allowed.

“I think we were just swinging at bad pitches and getting behind,” said Chukars third baseman Ryan Dale, who went 0 for 3 with a strikeout. “It wasn’t the pitcher. It was us.”

Easterling worked quickly between pitches, and his effectiveness combined with mistakes by Chukars hitters resulted in quick innings. The game finished in two hours and 29 minutes, despite a slow seventh, eighth and ninth.

“He had good rhythm and tempo, kept the ball down, changed speeds, located well,” David said of Easterling. “He commanded the fastball, and when he needed to go to anything other than that, he had command of that.”

The Chukars cut the deficit to 3-2 in the bottom of the seventh, but a two-run home run from Voyagers catcher Zach Fish off Alberto Rodriguez in the top of the ninth gave Great Falls a 5-2 lead. Those were Rodriguez’s first two earned runs of the season, breaking his 13-inning streak.

Chukars’ left fielder Roman Collins went 2 for 4 with a double, and first baseman Logan Nottebrok went 2 for 3 with a double.

Idaho Falls (12-21) gets today off and travels to Orem for a four-game series starting Thursday.

Logan Nottebrok, pitching lifts Idaho Falls in 5-1 win

Idaho Falls pitcher Daniel Concepcion releases a pitch during Monday night's game at Melaleuca Field. (Monte LaOrange / mlaorange@postregister.com)
Idaho Falls pitcher Daniel Concepcion releases a pitch during Monday night’s game at Melaleuca Field. (Monte LaOrange / mlaorange@postregister.com)

By VICTOR FLORES
vflores@postregister.com

Logan Nottebrok couldn’t speak a week ago. On Monday night, the first baseman was one of the Idaho Falls Chukars’ offensive stars.

Nottebrok tripled and scored the game-tying run in the sixth inning, then walked to drive in the go-ahead run in the seventh. That run was decisive in the Chukars’ 5-1 win over Great Falls Monday at Melaleuca Field.

“It feels good to hit the ball hard,” Nottebrok said.

Nottebrok has been battling strep throat and pneumonia since the Chukars’ road series against Great Falls from July 7-9. His performance reflected his illness. In three games from July 7-15, Nottebrok went 0 for 10 with a walk. His batting average and slugging percentage going into Monday were each .190 (team-lows).

“My energy’s been a little low, but that’s part of baseball,” said Nottebrok, a 2015 undrafted free agent from Texas A&M. “You have to come out and grind.”

Nottebrok has been guzzling energy drinks and the powdered vitamin drink mix Emergen-C to try to improve his condition. But his voice, while now audible, is hoarse.

Before Friday’s game against Missoula, Chukars hitting coach Andre David worked with Nottebrok on some adjustments: lowering his hands during his batting stance and using his lower body more during his swing. Neither David nor Nottebrok think Nottebrok’s improved performance since then is a coincidence.

Nottebrok went 1 for 4 on Friday with a walk and three hard-hit outs. On Monday, he was a crucial piece in turning Idaho Falls’ one-run deficit into a one-run lead that grew afterwards.

“Selection is better,” David said. “Mentally, I think he feels confident now. He knows if he gets something, he can take a pretty good swing. That’s all we ask.”

Nottebrok’s heroics on Monday would have been inconsequential if not for strong outing by the Chukars’ pitchers.

Great Falls' Antonio Rodriguez slides safely in to second base while Idaho Falls' D.J. Burt tries to make the catch during Monday night's game at Melaleuca Field. (Monte LaOrange / mlaorange@postregister.com)
Great Falls’ Antonio Rodriguez slides safely in to second base while Idaho Falls’ D.J. Burt tries to make the catch during Monday night’s game at Melaleuca Field. (Monte LaOrange / mlaorange@postregister.com)

Right-hander Daniel Concepcion made his second start for Idaho Falls, going four scoreless innings on four hits, three walks and two strikeouts.

Fellow righty Josh Staumont, who walked five batters in 0.2 innings Thursday against Missoula, was more accurate Monday. He gave up one run (earned) on one hit, two walks and four strikeouts in two innings. His fastball touched 99 miles per hour.

Lefty Hunter Haynes pitched the final three innings and didn’t give up a run. He allowed a hit and two walks while striking out four.

“Especially in this league, guys are going to walk guys. The key is how they bounce back,” Chukars manager Justin Gemoll said. “(Pitching coach Jeff Suppan) does a great job with these kids of getting them to trust their stuff and attack the zone.”

Right fielder Brawlun Gomez hit a 453-foot two-run home run in the bottom of the eighth to increase Idaho Falls’ lead to 4-1.

Idaho Falls has now won five of its last six games.

The Chukars (12-20) go for the series victory over the Voyagers (15-13) tonight at 7:15 p.m.

Sunday’s extra-inning thriller

The Orem Owlz’s 7-4 win over Helena on Sunday eliminated the Chukars from first half Pioneer League South Division contention. But the Chukars did all they could to stay alive for at least another day.

Idaho Falls defeated Great Falls 4-3 in Sunday afternoon’s up-and-down, 11-inning contest.

The Chukars took a 2-0 lead into the fifth inning, but Great Falls scored three combined runs in the fifth and sixth to take a 3-2 lead.

With one out in the ninth inning, third baseman Jeckson Flores walked and scored the game-tying run on a double from Pedro Gonzalez, sending it into extra innings.

In the bottom of the 11th, shortstop Marten Gasparini hit a leadoff single and Flores bunted him over. Gasparini then stole third and Gonzalez was intentionally walked. Designated hitter Ryan Dale came up and dropped down a suicide squeeze bunt. It rolled past the pitcher and scored Gasparini for a Chukars victory.