Chukars Notebook: Meibrys Viloria reflects on MVP season

Idaho Falls Chukars catcher Meibrys Viloria connects for a single during the Pioneer League-Northwest League All-Star game on Aug. 2 in Ogden, Utah. (Photo courtesy of Steve Thayer)
Idaho Falls Chukars catcher Meibrys Viloria connects for a single during the Pioneer League-Northwest League All-Star game on Aug. 2 in Ogden, Utah. (Photo courtesy of Steve Thayer)

Barring a major slump, the Pioneer League MVP was Meibrys Viloria’s to lose at the end of the first half.

Viloria, 19, tailed off a bit in the second half, but it didn’t cost him. The catcher became the third Idaho Falls Chukar since 2007 to win the Ralph Nelles Award. The league announced his MVP honor on Tuesday.

“I was working hard since spring training to right now, so I’m very excited,” Viloria said Thursday through I.F. bench coach Ramon Castro.

In the first 38 games, Viloria led the league in almost every major category: batting average (.457), on-base percentage (.504), slugging percentage (.793), hits (53), RBIs (36), doubles (15) and total bases (92). Most of those leads evaporated in the second half, but he still remained near the top.

His numbers look especially impressive compared to 2015. In 150 at-bats with Burlington last season, Viloria did not record single extra-base hit. He had 37 in 226 at-bats this season (28 doubles, three triples and six home runs).

“I’ve been working hard, working with Andre (David) in the cage every day, Viloria said. “That’s part of why I had a great season.”

Viloria still saw parts of his game that need improvement. Defense was his biggest weakness, he said, especially throwing outbase stealers. Viloria did, however, throw out 34 percent of all runners who tried to steal on him this season. That number would land him well within the top 10 of MLB catchers, and it was near the middle among regular Pioneer League catchers this season.

David, the Chukars’ hitting coach, said Viloria is mechanically sound as a hitter. One of the big things David worked on with Viloria was improving the position of his back elbow. That area has improved, David said, but there’s still room to grow.

David also praised Viloria’s hitting approach.

“When there were days that weren’t going well, which weren’t very many, he seemed to maintain a positive approach and knew that his plan and daily routine would carry him over into good things,” David said. “He understands what it takes on daily basis.”

DINI’S BUMPY ROAD TO I.F.

Nick Dini played 42 games for the Chukars last season. The catcher returned to I.F. for nine more this summer.

Dini, 23, began the 2016 season with Single-A Lexington, where he played one game. He moved up to Class A Advanced Wilmington for seven games, then returned to Lexington on June 30. In his first at-bat back on July 2, a pitch hit Dini in the hand, forcing him to exit the game. He later found out that his hand was broken, and he was placed on the 7-day disabled list.

Dini returned to action in the Arizona League on Aug. 16 and was moved up to I.F. on Aug. 22. He hit .378 with an .843 OPS in 39 plate appearances for the Chukars.

The constant shuffling and limited playing time this summer has frustrated Dini. But he put his struggles into perspective after seeing so many of his former teammates get released.

“Every opportunity you get, you’ve gotta take advantage of it,” Dini said. “The harsh reality is, if you don’t, you’ll be out of job. It sucks seeing guys go, but you understand that that’s part of it.”

STRAHM’S STRONG SEASON

Former Chukar Matt Strahm has thrived during his brief action with the Kansas City Royals this season. The left-handed pitcher owns a 0.54 ERA, 22 strikeouts and six walks in 16.2 innings pitched for the big league club this year.

Strahm, 24, was called up on July 31. He made his MLB debut that day and allowed one earned run in 0.1 inning against the Texas Rangers. He hasn’t allowed a run since.

Strahm made his professional debut with the Chukars in 2012. He returned to I.F. in 2014 after undergoing Tommy John surgery the year before, according to the Kansas City Star.

MLB.com’s most recent prospect rankings has Strahm at No. 4 in Kansas City’s system.

FOLLOW THE LEADERS

Multiple Chukars led the Pioneer League in various statistical categories this season. Here they are:

Batting average Meibrys Viloria (.376)

Doubles Viloria (28)

RBIs Viloria (55)

Stolen bases Nick Heath (36)

Errors Ricky Aracena (38)

Hits allowed Arnaldo Hernandez (99)

Walks issued Matt Portland (37)

THE “WHO’S HOT?” PLAYER OF THE YEAR

C Meibrys Viloria

Apologies to Joe Dudek, Nick Heath, Alex Luna, Yeison Melo, Manny Olloque and Luke Willis, but this honor clearly belongs to the MVP.

THE “WHO’S NOT” PLAYER OF THE YEAR

LHP Nick Andros

Andros finished the season with a 9.20 ERA, 48 hits allowed, 31 strikeouts, 14 walks issued and seven home runs given up. On Monday at Orem, the Chukars had a 9-8 lead in the 10th inning when Andros entered the game. The Owlz scored two runs off Andros to walk off and eliminate I.F. from playoff contention.

Chukars end the 2016 season with a fitting win

Idaho Falls Chukars third baseman Manny Olloque hits a solo home run in the bottom of the seventh inning Thursday against the Orem Owlz at Melaleuca Field. The Chukars won the season finale 10-8. (Photo courtesy of Steven Thayer)
Idaho Falls Chukars third baseman Manny Olloque hits a solo home run in the bottom of the seventh inning Thursday against the Orem Owlz at Melaleuca Field. The Chukars won the season finale 10-8. (Photo courtesy of Steven Thayer)

The Idaho Falls Chukars ended their season in fitting fashion.

The game lasted three hours and 10 minutes, I.F.’s 25th game with a duration of at least three hours. The Chukars and Orem Owlz traded leads three times and scored boat loads of runs. And no Chukars game would be complete without some errors.

I.F. finished the 2016 season with a 10-8 win over Orem Thursday night in front of 2,194 fans at Melaleuca Field. The Chukars didn’t make the Pioneer League playoffs, but they finished the season with a 40-36 overall record the best in the South Division.

“When you’re not in the playoffs, it’s easy to check out,” Chukars third baseman Manny Olloque said. “But I felt like we finished strong and did good throughout the year. We were above .500, and we competed every game.”

Crooked numbers

The Chukars entered Thursday’s game with 507 runs scored, 35 more than second-place Ogden. With 10 on Thursday, I.F. finished the season averaging 6.8 runs per game.

Run prevention, however, wasn’t the Chukars’ strong suit, as Thursday showed.

Chukars opening day starter Arnaldo Hernandez took the hill in the final game, which didn’t go as well as his first start. Hernandez pitched five innings in I.F.’s 8-2 win over the Ogden Raptors on June 17, allowing one earned run on three hits. On Thursday, the first five Orem batters reached base, and three of them scored.

Hernandez pitched 4.1 innings on Thursday. The right-hander allowed eight runs (seven earned) on 11 hits and a walk, and he struck out two.

I.F.’s offense immediately bailed Hernandez out from his rough start. The Chukars scored six runs on five hits, two walks and a hit-by-pitch in the bottom of the first.

Orem rallied to take an 8-7 lead in the fifth, but I.F. responded in the seventh. Joe Dudek opened the scoring with his sixth home run of the season, a deep two-run shot to center field. The next batter, Manny Olloque, hit a blast to left field to finish the scoring for the night.

Enmanuel Cammacho pitched three scoreless, hitless innings, and Richard Lovelady pitched a 1-2-3 ninth inning for his sixth save of the season. The left-hander was lights out in his 13 games with I.F. Lovelady finished with a 1.84 ERA, 16 strikeouts and seven walks.

“Every guy got better,” Chukars manager Justin Gemoll said. “It’s a developmental league. These guys grew together as a team and figured out how to win some ballgames.”

The Chukars also committed two errors in the game, upping their season total to 167 (2.2 per game). The next closest team was Ogden, which finished with 131 errors.

Player of the game

Chukars third baseman Manny Olloque

Olloque and Dudek each hit a home run and a double. Olloque added a single to finish 3 for 4, while Dudek was 2 for 4.

Thursday’s performance ended an impressive 2016 season for Olloque. The Pioneer League postseason all-star had a .330 batting average, eight home runs and an OPS over .850.

The biggest area Olloque wants to improve is defense. The 20-year-old committed 25 errors this season, including two on Thursday.

“I lost focus,” Olloque said. “I look forward to instructs and get better on defense.”

Chukars beat Orem 10-6 in the second-to-last game of 2016

Chukars catcher Mark Sanchez (15) tries to slide by Owlz infielder Franklin Torres (6) during  Wednesday's game at Melaleuca Field. (Taylor Carpenter / tcarpenter@postregister.com)
Chukars catcher Mark Sanchez (15) tries to slide by Owlz infielder Franklin Torres (6) during Wednesday’s game at Melaleuca Field. (Taylor Carpenter / tcarpenter@postregister.com)

The Idaho Falls Chukars overcame some shaky pitching and three errors from the defense to pull out a 10-6 win over the Orem Owlz in front of 1,321 fans Wednesday at Melaleuca Field.

Idaho Falls overcame the sloppy play with an offensive performance that brought back memories from the first half of the Pioneer League season, when Chukars bashed their way to 22 wins. Idaho Falls finished with five extra-base hits and 15 hits Wednesday.

Four times two

The Chukars were muddling through the first four innings, trailing 4-2 before coming alive with four runs in the fifth. Nick Heath started the surge with a walk and a stolen base, and he moved to third on a throwing error.

Ricky Aracena then struck out, but reached first on a wild pitch. Manny Olloque followed with a two-run double to left and moved to third on the the throw. After Yeison Melo struck out, Nick Dini doubled in Olloque. And with two outs, MJ Sanchez drove in Dini with a single to right.

Idaho Falls added another four-spot in the seventh, the first coming home on another Sanchez RBI single. Jordan Ebert tripled to score Sanchez and Olloque, and then came home on a throwing error.

Orem cut the deficit to four with a run in the eighth and had the bases loaded in the ninth before Drew Milligan got a ground ball to end the threat.

Olloque was 3 for 5 with a double, two runs and two RBIs while Ebert was 2 for 4 with a double, a triple, a run and two RBIs.

Jason Freeman earned the win in relief, allowing two runs (one earned) on two hits with one walk and five strikeouts.

Player of the game

Idaho Falls catcher MJ Sanchez

It’s been a tough year for Sanchez, a 2015 35th-round draft pick who has been stuck behind league MVP Meibrys Viloria at catcher. Sanchez has played in just 21 games and had 70 at-bats, and Wednesday’s game was his best. The Corono, Calif., native went 4 for 4 with a double, two runs and two RBIs.

Up next

Idaho Falls (39-36 overall, 17-20 second half) wraps up the 2016 season with a final home game against Orem. There will be a fireworks display following the game.

Meibrys Viloria named Pioneer League MVP

Viloria
Viloria

Idaho Falls Chukars catcher Meibrys Viloria, who batted over .400 for most of the season, won the Pioneer League’s 2016 Ralph Nelles Award as the league’s most valuable player.

Viloria, a 19-year-old catcher from Cartagena, Colombia, through Monday led the Pioneer League in batting average (.381), doubles (28) and RBIs (54). And one season after not having an extra-base hit for the Burlington Royals, Viloria is second in the league with 37 extra-base hits. He is also second with 53 runs and third in on-base percentage (.442) and slugging (.619).

The international free agent owns the Pioneer League’s longest hitting streak of 2016 at 20 games from July 7 to Aug. 7.

“It’s a great credit to him and the year he’s had,” Idaho Falls manager Justin Gemoll said in a news release. “He does a lot of good things blocking balls, controlling the running game and leading the pitching staff, and offensively he’s had a great approach and been consistent all year long. He’s one of those kids who comes ready to play and wants to play every day. His energy is infectious for our team and he got after it all season long.”

Viloria is the third Chukar to win the award since Idaho Falls became affiliated with the Royals. Clint Robinson, currently with the Washington Nationals, won the award in 2007, while Ryan O’Hearn, now at Double-A Northwest Arkansas, was honored in 2014.

Viloria, Olloque honored

Idaho Falls teammates Meibrys Viloria and Manny Olloque were named to the 2016 Pioneer League end of season All-Star team, the league announced late Monday. The award is voted on by the league’s managers and honors the best players at each position.

Viloria, who was named the league MVP Tuesday, leads the league in batting average, doubles and RBIs through Monday.

Olloque, in his third minor league season, was hitting .319 through Monday with 15 doubles, seven homers, 49 RBIs and 50 runs scored.

Tuesday’s game

CHUKARS 6, OWLZ 5: At Orem, Utah, Idaho Falls built a 5-1 lead and then held on late to beat Orem the day after it was eliminated from the Pioneer League playoffs.

Idaho Falls starter Alex Luna was solid again, allowing two runs on seven hits with one walk and four strikeouts over six innings. The 6-foot-5, 205-pound right-hander improved to 5-1 and saw his ERA drop to 3.90.

The Chukars scored single runs in the first and third innings and plated two in the fourth to go up 4-1. I.F.’s lead went to 6-2 after single runs in the sixth and seventh. Orem, which rallied in the eighth, ninth and 10th innings Monday to win, scored three times in the eighth to cut the lead to one. But Christian Flecha worked a 1-2-3 bottom of the ninth to close it out.

Idaho Falls shortstop Ricky Aracena had one of his best offensive games of the season, going 3 for 3 with two walks, a double and three RBIs. He also stole a base and was error-free in the field. Rudy Martin was 2 for 4 with two runs scored and Luke Willis was 2 for 4 with a run and an RBI.

The Chukars (38-36 overall, 16-21 second half) return to Melaleuca Field for the final two games of the season. Idaho Falls and Orem will play Wednesday and Thursday, with first pitch scheduled for 7:15 p.m. both nights.

Chukars Notebook: Q&A with Ricky Aracena

Aracena
Aracena

Perhaps no player represents the Idaho Falls Chukars’ poor second half more than Ricky Aracena.

Through Sunday, the shortstop had hit .183 since the first half ended. His on-base percentage dropped from .320 to .286, and his slugging percentage fell from .379 to .305.

Aracena’s biggest area of struggle this season has been defense, where he committed 38 errors going into Monday’s game.Missoula shortstop Jasrado Chisholm is second in the Pioneer League with 24 errors.

But errors only tell half the story. Aracena has a cannon of a right arm that’s rarely inaccurate (MLB.com ranked his arm a 65 on the 20 to 80 scouting scale). He’s also shown good range thanks to his above average speed. His biggest issue is corralling routine ground balls.

Aracena signed with the Kansas City Royals for $850,000 as a 16-year-old in 2014. He was MLB.com’s No. 24 international prospect at the time, and he’s the 29th-ranked prospect in Kansas City’s system in the website’s most recent list.

“Aracena has the quickness and range to play shortstop, and his very strong arm allows him to make all of the necessary throws,” MLB.com’s scouting report says. “He exhibits good instincts in all facets of the game and earns praise for his makeup as well.”

Aracena recently talked with the Post Register about his defense, signing with the Royals and his favorite MLB player. Chukars bench coach Ramon Castro translated.

This Q&A has been edited for length and clarity.

I’ve noticed good arm strength and accuracy from you this season. Is that something you would say, too?

“I haven’t been good with defense, but I try every time to throw perfect to the base. I think it’s becoming better.”

What has been the main reason for the errors this season?

“The errors I make are because I’m not ready, not focused. It’s a mentality.”

Do you think you’ll be able to fix your error troubles going forward?

I’ve been more focused, I’ve been more relaxed from making nice plays. I’m continuing to work.”

Do you feel like you’ve improved as a defender this season?

“I try to work hard all the time, whether I make an error or not. There are a lot of things I can do better.”

How did you get noticed by MLB scouts as a teenager?

“I was training in the Dominican Republic. Some friend told a scout with the Kansas City Royals, ‘I’ve got this guy here, so come down here and watch him.’ I was good when I signed. I was running good, threw good to the base and hit good. That’s why the Kansas City Royals signed me.”

How did you react when you signed?

“I was excited to sign with the Kansas City Royals. I was very happy coming to the states. I’m working hard and trying to go to the big leagues.”

Did earning that much money surprise you?

“I was looking for more money. Another team wanted to give me less money. I wanted to stay in Kansas City because I knew the Royals give a lot of opportunities.”

Who is your favorite MLB player or players?

“Jose Reyes.”

Why him?

“He plays hard every day. He plays hard, he plays exciting, he enjoys the game.”

DOZIER MOVES UP

Former Chukar Hunter Dozier was promoted from Triple-A Omaha to Kansas City on Friday. The Royals made room for Dozier on their 40-man roster by placing pitcher Luke Hochevar on the 60-day disabled list, according to the Kansas City Star.

Dozier hit .294/.357/.506 (batting average/on-base percentage/slugging percentage) with 15 home runs in 433 plate appearances this summer with the Storm Chasers. Before Friday, the third baseman was considered the Royals’ top minor league prospect in the minor leagues, per MLB.com.

Dozier, 24, played for the 2013 Pioneer League champion Chukars. He hit .303/.403/.509 with seven homers that season.

2015 CHUKARS MOVE ON

The Post Register ran an interview last month with former Chukar Josh Banuelos, who was released by the Kansas City Royals in June. But he wasn’t the only 2015 I.F. player who was released since last summer. Here are the others (their 2015 stats with the Chukars are in parentheses):

LHP Tripp Davis (Pioneer League all-star; 2.81 ERA, 30 Ks, 11BB in 32 IP)

LHP Cruz Guevara (5.30 ERA, 37 Ks, 17 BBs in 37.1 IP)

OF Brawlun Gomez (.231/.279/.447, team-leading 11 HRs in 208 ABs)

C Pedro Gonzalez (.328/.403/.552 in 58 ABs)

LHP Nick Green (3.52 ERA, 15 Ks, 7 BBs in 15.1 IP)

LHP Hunter Haynes (7.04 ERA, 27 Ks, 24 BBs in 47.1 IP)

RHP Carter Hope (6.07 ERA, 28 Ks, 12 BBs in 56.1 IP)

OF Riley King (1 for 3 in one game)

C Luis Lara (.320/.393/.320 in 25 ABs)

INF Logan Nottebrook* (.252/.341/.470 in 33 ABs)

C Kyle Pollock (.280/.348/.464 in 125 ABs)

RHP Alberto Rodriguez (3.38 ERA, 21 Ks, 13 BBs in 29.1 IP)

LHP Brandon Thomas (3.35 ERA, 34 Ks, 25 BBs in 45.2 IP)

LHP Ian Thompkins (4.44 ERA, 25 Ks, 20 BBs in 2.41 IP)

*Nottebrook retired

WHO’S HOT?

1B Joe Dudek

From Aug. 30 to Sept. 3, Dudek notched at least two hits in each of the four games. Through Sunday, Dudek had gone 17 for 35 (.486) with three home runs, five doubles and 11 walks in his last 11 games.

WHO’S NOT?

C MJ Sanchez

Sanchez has been saddled with the backup catcher role thanks to Meibrys Viloria, so his playing time has been sparse. When Sanchez has played, he’s struggled.

Through Sunday, the 22-year-old had played in nine games since the start of August. He went 2 for 28 (.071) with one walk in those contests. He’s hitting .214/.291/.229 on the season.

Chukars’ playoff hopes end a with loss in 10th at Ogden

chukars-logo-125x125

A season of near-misses and just plain miscues were summed up perfectly in Monday’s 10-9 loss to the Orem Owlz.

Idaho Falls repeatedly grabbed the lead only to give it back with sloppy defense and pitching, eventually coughing up a one-run lead in the bottom of the 10th inning to fall 10-9 to the Owlz and end their playoff hopes. Idaho Falls was eliminated with three games remaining in the regular season.

Blown chances

Idaho Falls held leads of 5-1, 6-5, 8-6 and finally 9-8, but gave up the advantage each time.

The last two innings were particularly painful. The Chukars scored twice in the top of the ninth to take an 8-6 lead, sparked by RBI singles from Nick Dini and Ryan Dale. But the Owlz answered with two in the bottom of the ninth, with runs scoring on a bases-loaded walk and a wild pitch.

Idaho Falls once again took the lead in the top of the 10th, loading the bases with nobody out before Luke Willis grounded into a double play that plated a run. But Orem had a final answer, getting back-to-back one-out doubles from L.J. Kalawaia and Cody Ramer and a game-ending single from Nick Flair.

The Chukars got a good start from Matt Portland, who didn’t make it out of the first inning in his last start. The left-hander allowed three runs (two earned) on five hits with two walks and six strikeouts.

And the I.F. offense, which has struggled in the second half, pounded out 19 hits and drew three walks. But only four of those hits went for extra bases, and the Chukars stranded 11 runners on base while going 7 for 21 with runners in scoring position.

The Chukars fell to 2-5 in extra-inning games this season, going 0-5 on the road and 2-0 at home. I.F. fell to 5-13 on the road in the second half and 12-25 overall.

Player of the game

Idaho Falls right fielder Yeison Melo

Melo mashed Orem pitching Monday, going 5 for 6 with two doubles and three runs. He pushed his season batting average to. 326.

Up next

Idaho Falls finishes its road schedule today with a game against Orem at 7:05 p.m. The teams then head north on I15 to complete the regular season with games at Melaleuca Field on Wednesday and Thursday. First pitch both nights is scheduled for 7:15 p.m. There will be fireworks following the final game Thursday.

Sunday’s game

CHUKARS 8, RAPTORS 7: At Ogden, Utah, Idaho Falls scored four times in the top of the ninth inning and rallied for a season-saving victory at Lindquist Field.

Ogden led 7-4 entering the ninth, but Idaho Falls scored four times with the help of two Raptors’ errors. Jordan Ebert reachedon a error to lead off and Rudy Martin followed with a double. Nick Heath drove in the first run with a single to center.

After a pitching change, the Chukars pulled out a double steal, with Martin coming home and Heath moving to second. After Ricky Aracena’s fielder’s choice wiped out Heath, Meibrys Viloria reached on second error. Joe Dudek brought Aracena home with a looper to center, and Manny Olloque drove in the winning run with a sac fly to right.

Jason Freeman pitched a perfect ninth to close out the win.

Olloque led the Chukars, going 2 for 4 with his seventh homer of the year. Martin was also 2 for 4 with his second homer.

Chukars split doubleheader with Raptors

Viloria
Viloria

A day that started out so well ended with the Idaho Falls Chukars one loss closer to elimination.

Idaho Falls opened Saturday with a tidy 3-2 win over the Ogden Raptors in the first game of a doubleheader at Lindquist Field. The Chukars got some more good news later in the night when Pioneer League South Division leader Grand Junction fell to Orem.

But the good news didn’t last as Idaho Falls’ bats went silent in a 7-1 loss in the nightcap that pushed the Chukars 4.5 games behind the Rockies with just five games to play. Any combination of I.F. losses and Grand Junction wins equaling two will end the Chukars’ playoff hopes.

In Saturday’s opener, Igol Feliz extended the Chukars’ run of strong starts with an impressive six-inning performance. Feliz (3-3, 5.08 ERA) allowed just five hits and didn’t walk a batter while striking out five. Richard Lovelady pitched around two walks in the seventh to earn his fifth save.

And the offense did just enough, getting a run in the second on Joe Dudek’s RBI double to right, and two more in the seventh on RBI singles from Nick Dini and Meibrys Viloria.

The momentum didn’t carry over into Game 2. Ogden grabbed a 2-0 lead in the second and led 7-0 after four. That was more than enough for starting pitcher Sven Schuller, who allowed just two hits while striking out three in five shutout innings.

Andres Machado, who has been one of I.F.’s best pitchers this season, allowed six runs (three earned) on seven hits while striking out five in three innings.

Idaho Falls didn’t score until the seventh and managed just five hits.

Player of the game

Idaho Falls catcher Meibrys Viloria

Viloria was a bright spot Saturday, going a combined 3 for 7 with a run scored and two RBIs. He also hit his 28th double, leaving him two shy of tying the Pioneer League single-season record.

Up next

The Chukars and Raptors finish their four-game at 4 p.m. today in Ogden. Jace Vines (1-6, 6.04) is scheduled to start for Idaho Falls. The Chukars then play two games in Orem before closing the regular season with two more against Orem at Melaleuca Field on Wednesday and Thursday.

Raptors rally past the Chukars 3-2

Hernandez
Hernandez

Idaho Falls’ slim chances at making the Pioneer League playoffs took a big hit Friday with a 3-2 loss to the Ogden Raptors in Utah.

The loss, combined with Grand Junction’s 15-inning win over Orem, pushes the Chukars five games behind the Rockies in the South Division second-half standings with just eight games to play. Idaho Falls can be eliminated with any combination of Chukars losses and Grand Junction wins that adds up to three.

Good start, bad finish

Idaho Falls got another good performance from a starting pitcher, but couldn’t make it equal a win. Arnaldo Hernandez was strong in his six innings, allowing two earned runs on three hits with two walks and nine strikeouts. But the game was tied when he left the game, and Ogden got to the I.F. bullpen when it counted.

DJ Peters did the damage, smacking a solo homer off Christian Flecha in the bottom of the eighth. Ogden relievers Adalberto Pena and Vinny Santarsiero did the rest, allowing just one hit and two walks while striking out five over the final three innings to secure the win.

Idaho Falls finished with just five hits, two of them coming from Joe Dudek. Angelo Castellano added a solo homer in the third inning, his second of the season.

Player of the game

Ogden right fielder DJ Peters

On a night of limited offense, Peters was the hero. He stepped to the plate with two outs in the bottom of the eighth in a tie game and belted a no-doubter over the wall in left-center field. That run proved to be the difference.

Up next

The Chukars and Raptors play a doubleheader today after Thursday’s game was rained out. Idaho Falls will start Andres Machado (2-3, 3.72) starting Game 1 at 3:05 p.m. and Igol Feliz (2-3, 5.54 ERA) taking the hill in Game 2 to follow.

Chukars washed out in Ogden

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The Idaho Falls Chukars’ chase for a playoff spot was put on hold by rain in Ogden, Utah, on Thursday night.

Idaho Falls won three of four against Ogden this week at Melaleuca Field to cut their deficit on first-place Grand Junction to 3.5 games and three of the second-place Raptors. But rain washed out Thursday’s game, and combined with Grand Junction’s 8-0 win over Orem the Chukars’ deficit is four heading into today’s single game. Idaho Falls has eight games remaining.

Ogden and I.F. will play a doubleheader Saturday (beginning at 1:30 p.m.) and then finish their four-game series Sunday before Idaho Falls heads to Orem for two games against the first-half champion Owlz. Idaho Falls plays its final two regular-season games at home Wednesday and Thursday against Orem.

Any combination of six Idaho Falls losses and Grand Junction wins will eliminate the Chukars from the playoff hunt.

Alex Luna struggles in the Chukars’ 9-5 loss to Ogden

Luna
Luna

The Ogden Raptors entered Wednesday night in need of a win. The only problem: they were 0-7 at Melaleuca Field on the season.

But Ogden proved that Melaleuca Field was not a complete death trap by beating the Chukars 9-5 Wednesday night. The Raptors avoided a four-game sweep and remained a half game back of Grand Junction in the Pioneer League South Division second-half standings.

The Chukars, meanwhile, fell 3.5 games behind the Rockies. Eight games remain.

Luna’s rocky return

Chukars right-hander Alex Luna owned a league-leading 2.48 ERA in the first half. That number didn’t change for nearly a month due to an oblique injury he suffered on July 26.

Luna made relief appearances on Aug. 22 and on Friday, and he finally earned a start on Wednesday. The outing, however, was his worst of the year.

Luna allowed nine earned runs on 10 hits in 4.2 innings against the Raptors (he walked one and struck out three). He hadn’t allowed more than three earned runs in any of his previous six starts.

“I felt alright, like I was back from my injury. I wasn’t thinking about that, and it didn’t hurt at all,” Luna said. “Sometimes you just don’t have your best stuff, and tonight was one of those nights. I was leaving the ball up, wasn’t putting it where I wanted to and kinda placing it rather than throwing it.”

Luna allowed seven runs through four innings, but the bullpen remained mostly silent until he ran into trouble in the fifth. Chukars manager Justin Gemoll said Luna’s long leash was not really due to the 8.1 innings thrown by the bullpen on Tuesday night. Instead, Gemoll cited the predetermined number of pitches that I.F. targeted for Luna. Gemoll declined to give the specific number. Luna threw 77 pitches (52 strikes) in the game.

Playoff scenarios

I.F.’s playoff chances are slim, but there are a couple of ways they could reach the postseason.

The first, most direct scenario involves the Chukars winning most, if not all, of their remaining games and winning the South division second-half title outright.

The second scenario requires Orem to vault into first place alone. The Owlz won the first half title, so if they win the second half, the South team with the next best overall record would make the playoffs. The Chukars currently own the division’s second best overall record.

The second scenario, however, is less likely because Orem is 2.5 games out of first place in the second half standings. So winning out is the best way for I.F. to nab the second playoff spot. Otherwise, the Chukars would need Orem to win or sweep its four-game series against Grand Junction, then they would need to lose most of their final four games against the Owlz.

Player of the game

Raptors shortstop Gavin Lux

Lux had a big night in his Ogden debut Wednesday night, going 3 for 4 with an RBI.

The Dodgers selected Lux with the 20th overall pick in June’s MLB draft, and they signed the 18-year-old for a reported $2.3 million.

Up next

The Chukars (35-33 overall, 13-17 second half) and Raptors (33-35, 16-14) continue to play each other, only in Ogden. The four-game series starts Thursday at 6:30 p.m., when I.F. righty Arnaldo Hernandez will take on 6-foot-10 righty Nolan Long. The Chukars are 0-4 at Ogden this season.