Author: Victor Flores

Chukars hire a new broadcaster for the fourth straight year

Ratick
Ratick

The Idaho Falls Chukars’ broadcasting carousel continues to turn.

Last week, the Chukars announced the hiring of Logan Ratick as their director of broadcasting and media relations. Ratick, who is in his senior year at Syracuse University, will be fourth person in four years to fill that position.

Ratick’s duties will include calling Chukars home games alongside John Balginy and calling road games by himself. He will also be in charge of news releases, social media, the Chukars’ website and more.

“I felt like Idaho Falls was a great situation because of the people in the front office, the fact that I could do every single solo on the road and have a chance to learn from John Balginy,” Ratick told the Post Register over the phone earlier this week. “Everything about the situation seemed right.”

Ratick replaces Andrew Haynes, who told the Post Register he landed a temporary broadcasting job in the spring for the University of Texas softball team.

Chukars general manager Kevin Greene said he opens the broadcaster position after each season. Sometimes, the most recent broadcaster lands another job, and Greene’s hand is forced. Other times, a new broadcaster rises above the other candidates. Ratick landed in the second category, Greene said.

“He’s a kid with a bright future, and we look forward to having him for a year,” Greene told the Post Register Saturday. “This is nothing more than a stepping stone for this young man.”

Ratick has gained significant baseball broadcasting experience, despite attending the only ACC school without a baseball team. Last summer, he was the play-by-play man for the Orleans Firebirds of the Cape Cod Baseball League. He served the same role for the Syracuse Jr. Chiefs (New York Collegiate Baseball League) and LeMoyne College.

At Syracuse’s NPR-affiliate radio station, Ratick hosts various sports talks shows, along with postgame shows for the Orange football, men’s basketball and men’s lacrosse teams. He also does play-by-play for the women’s basketball team.

In May, Ratick plans to earn a bachelor’s degree in broadcast and digital journalism. He’ll join a prestigious list of Syracuse broadcasting alumni that includes Marv Albert, Bob Costas and Mike Tirico (who is replacing Costas as NBC’s prime time host at the Olympics).

Ratick won’t be the first Syracuse alum to call Chukar games, either. Chris Lewis was the team’s director of broadcasting and media relations in 2013 and 2014. Lewis was a senior at Syracuse when Ratick was a freshman, and Ratick reached out to him when he applied to work for the Chukars.

Ratick’s baseball employment options were limited by his May graduation because most minor league baseball teams begin their seasons in April.

Ratick read the book “Getting in the Game” by broadcaster Josh Lewin for a broadcasting class. The book included a chapter about baseball teams hiring broadcasters at the Baseball Winter Meetings. One of the chapter’s main characters was a man named Kevin Greene.

Ratick attended the Winter Meetings but didn’t receive any offers, so he cold-called several short-season baseball teams (the only minor league affiliates that start their seasons after May). He was immediately intrigued by the Chukars partially because they liked him, partially because their general manager was Greene.

“It’s a little coincidental that we read that story in class and I ended up being the one that made it out of the pool for Idaho Falls,” Ratick said. “I think it was meant to be.”

Ratick, who was born and raised in Connecticut, discovered his love for broadcasting around the age of 8. He was 12 when he set his sights on Syracuse. By then, he was watching baseball games with the sound off so he could practice his future craft.

“The only thing I’ve ever wanted to do in my life is broadcast professional baseball,” Ratick said.

He’ll get that chance in four months. The Chukars begin their season on June 19 at Grand Junction.

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 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.

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.

Wild night: Chukars inch closer to first place with an 11-10 win over Ogden

Idaho Falls Chukars second baseman Jordan Ebert rounds third base in the first inning of the game aganist the Ogden Raptors on Tuesday night at Melaleuca Field. (Taylor Carpenter / tcarpenter@postregister.com)
Idaho Falls Chukars second baseman Jordan Ebert rounds third base in the first inning of the game aganist the Ogden Raptors on Tuesday night at Melaleuca Field. (Taylor Carpenter / tcarpenter@postregister.com)

The Idaho Falls Chukars and Ogden Raptors began Tuesday’s game in almost comedic fashion, peppering the first inning with errors and poorly located pitches.

The first inning ended with 11 unearned runs, a fitting start to a three-and-a-half-hour game (I.F.’s 18-7 win on Monday also lasted that long). The Chukars waded through the mess and prevailed 11-10 at Melaleuca Field. I.F. has now taken the first three games of the four-game series, and sits 2.5 games behind Grand Junction for first place in the Pioneer League South Division. Nine games remain.

Wild first inning

The the first inning began with an error from shortstop Ricky Aracena. The inning ended 45 minutes later.

The intervening minutes were filled with three additional errors, eight hits and 11 runs.

Ogden scored the first five of those runs thanks in large part to Aracena’s boot on a sharp ground ball. In fact, four of the Raptors’ runs came with two outs, and none of the runs against starter Matt Portland were earned.

Idaho Falls Chukars pitcher Matt Portland pitches during the first inning of the game aganist the Ogden Raptors on Tuesday night at Melaleuca Field. (Taylor Carpenter / tcarpenter@postregister.com)
Idaho Falls Chukars pitcher Matt Portland pitches during the first inning of the game against the Ogden Raptors on Tuesday night at Melaleuca Field. (Taylor Carpenter / tcarpenter@postregister.com)

But just because Portland’s ERA went down doesn’t mean he pitched well. The left-hander fell behind seven of the eight batters he faced, and 20 of his 41 pitches were balls. Aracena’s error and a couple of bloop singles turned a rough inning into a short outing. Portland was relieved by Nick Andros with two outs in the top of the first.

Portland’s final batter was Jordan Paroubeck, who hit a bloop double that resulted in a collision between second baseman Jordan Ebert and right fielder Nick Heath. Ebert was fine, but Heath was shaken up and left the game.

The Raptors helped the Chukars get back into the game in the bottom of the inning. With one out, Meibrys Viloria and Yeison Melo each reached on fielding errors by Ogden’s middle infield. Joe Dudek and Angelo Castellano followed with RBI hits, and Dudek scored on a wild pitch to cut the deficit to 5-4.

With two outs, Ebert doubled to drive in Castellano. Rudy Martin drove in Ebert with a single up the middle, and he nearly scored after center fielder DJ Peters allowed the ball to roll past him. Martin ended up on third base, where he was stranded to end the inning. The Chukars led 6-5.

Ogden finished the game with six errors.

Back-and-forth they go

The Raptors responded to the turbulent first with three runs in the second, and they increased the lead to 10-6 lead in the fifth. The Chukars scored two in the bottom half and had a good chance to tie it. But they couldn’t plate runners on second and third with no outs.

The Chukars promptly tied it up in the sixth inning, but they again left something on the table. With two outs and runners on first and second, Martin singled up the middle. Manny Olloque had an easy path home, but Ebert complicated matters by trying to reach third. Peters’ throw beat Ebert to the base, and the umpire ruled that he was tagged out before Olloque touched home plate. So the score remained 10-10.

Luckily for the Chukars, the lineup stayed hot in the seventh. Luke Willis singled and reached second on an error to open the inning. Aracena bunted him over, and Viloria drove him in with a sacrifice fly to left field.

Cole Way pitched 3.1 scoreless innings out of the bullpen, and Richard Lovelady earned his fourth save with a scoreless ninth.

Player of the game

Chukars first baseman Joe Dudek

Dudek’s hot streak continued on Tuesday, when he went 3 for 5 with a double and a solo home run. Dudek is now 10 for 19 (.526) with three home runs and three doubles in his last six games.

Up next

The Chukars (35-32 overall, 13-16 second half) will try to sweep the Raptors (32-35, 15-14) at 7:15 p.m. Wednesday. Righty Alex Luna (2.62 ERA) will make his first start for I.F. since he strained his oblique on July 26 (he’s made two relief appearances in the last week).

Chukars crumble in an 11-5 loss to Orem

Idaho Falls Chukars bat boy Derik Johnson congratulates Joe Dudek after Dudek’s two-run home run in the bottom of the fourth inning against the Orem Owlz Saturday at Melaleuca Field. (Courtesy of Steve Thayer)
Idaho Falls Chukars bat boy Derik Johnson congratulates Joe Dudek after Dudek’s two-run home run in the bottom of the fourth inning against the Orem Owlz Saturday at Melaleuca Field. (Courtesy of Steve Thayer)

The Idaho Falls Chukars went 7-12 on the road in the first half, yet they almost won the Pioneer League South Division title. league-best 15-4 home record kept them in the hunt.

The road struggles have worsened in the second half (3-10), and I.F. has plummeted down to average at home.

I.F. fell to the Orem Owlz 11-5 on Saturday night at Melaleuca Field. The Chukars are now 7-6 at home in the second half, and the division crown continues to stiff-arm them. They’re dwelling at the bottom of the South standings, five games back of the Ogden Raptors. Twelve games remain.

So close, yet so far

Saturday’s game went back-and-forth for eight innings. Even the Owlz’ three-run rally top of the seventh, which gave them 6-2 lead, was answered. The Chukars scored twice in the bottom half.

Orem’s lead was cut to one when Luke Willis hit a one-out RBI triple in the bottom of the eighth. But Rudy Martin and Nick Heath each struck out, providing omens for the next inning.

Cole Way came in to pitch the top of the ninth, and he lasted a long time in terms of minutes, not outs. Way faced eight batters and recorded one out. He allowed four hits and walked three, leading to five runs (all earned) and an 11-5 for Orem.

“We’ve been fighting,” Chukars first baseman Joe Dudek said. “We just seem to have that one inning that kinda kills us.”

It was a rough night for the entire Chukars bullpen. Starter Igol Feliz allowed three runs (one earned) in six innings. The righty was replaced by lefty Christian Flecha, who allowed three runs (two earned) in the first of his two innings. Overall, the relievers allowed seven hits and four walks while striking out two.

Dudek thrives as I.F. dives

I.F.’s subpar second half has coincided with a Joe Dudek hot streak.

Dudek went 0 for 3 on Aug. 13 against Great Falls, dropping his batting average to .207 and his OPS to .672. The first baseman has gone 16 for 36 (.444) since, including a 1 for 2 showing on Saturday in which he drew three walks and hit two-run home run.

His batting average is now .319, and his OPS is around 1.000.

“I feel comfortable in the box. That’s really all there is,” Dudek said. “Seeing pitches pretty well, putting good swings on it and good things have happened.”

Player of the game

Owlz left fielder Zach Gibbons

Orem first baseman Nick Flair and Jose Rojas each produced three hits, but Gibbons reached base more times. Gibbons went 2 for 3 with two walks, and he stole two bases.

Edwards gets promoted

Chukars infielder David Edwards was promoted to Single-A Lexington on Saturday. The Kansas City Royals did not send player to the Chukars as of Saturday night.

Edwards appeared in 51 games for the Chukars, and he was positioned all over the field. The 23-year-old played 22 games at first base, 16 at second and six at third, according to Baseball-Reference (he was I.F.’s designated hitter in his other seven games).

Edwards hit .284 with a .346 on-base percentage and a .490 slugging percentage in 218 plate appearances. His eight home runs lead the Chukars, as well.

Up next

The Chukars (32-31 overall, 10-16 second half) welcome the Ogden Raptors (32-32, 15-11) for a crucial four-game series starting Sunday. I.F.’s Andres Machado (4.17 ERA) takes on fellow righty William Soto (5.31). First pitch is scheduled for 4 p.m.

Chukars end their road trip with an 8-0 loss to Orem

Cepin
Cepin

The sliver of progress the Idaho Falls Chukars made on Wednesday was negated on Thursday.

Orem cruised past the Chukars 8-0 Thursday to split the two-games series in Utah. Pioneer League South Division leader Grand Junction, meanwhile, pounded Ogden 12-3. So I.F. gave back the game it gained Thursday, and it sits 5.5 games out of first place with 14 games to play.

The Chukars have now been shut out two times this season.

Open and shut

The 8-0 score exaggerated the distance between I.F. and Orem on Thursday. The Owlz led 3-0 going into the eighth inning, when they scored five runs to put it away. And their pitching staff was hardly untouchable.

The Chukars tallied eight hits, three walks and one hit-by-pitch on the night. They couldn’t, however, string the baserunners together or hit one over the outfielders’ heads.

All eight hits were singles, and only three runners reached scoring position. I.F.’s hitters went 0 for 3 with runners in scoring position, dropping them to 3 for 24 (.125) in those situations the last four games. The Chukars also left nine runners on base Thursday.

First baseman Joe Dudek was one of the few bright spots, going 2 for 2 with two walks. Dudek, who hit the decisive homer Wednesday, is batting .297 with a .916 OPS in 64 at-bats with the Chukars.

Another solid start wasted

In the 12 games before Thursday’s, only one of I.F.’s pitchers (Igol Feliz on Sunday) had allowed more than three runs in a start. Reinaldo Cepin extended that streak to 13 with five serviceable innings against the Owlz. The left-hander allowed three earned runs, seven hits and two walks while striking out two.

But Cepin had no chance to avoid the loss. The lineup never seriously threatened to close the gap, and the bullpen struggled. Nick Andros relieved Cepin and allowed four earned runs in two innings. Enmanuel Camacho allowed one earned run in his inning of work.

Player of the game

Owlz right fielder John Schukneckt

Schukneckt entered Thursday’s game with two home runs in 135 at-bats on the season. On Thursday, he hit two bombs in consecutive at-bats. The first was a solo shot in the bottom of the third that opened the scoring. His second was a two-run blast in the fifth to give Orem a 3-0 lead.

Schukneckt finished 2 for 5.

Up next

The Chukars (31-31 overall, 9-15 second half) and Owlz (33-29, 11-13) begin another two-game set on Friday at Melaleuca Field. I.F righty Arnaldo Hernandez (5.53 ERA) will get the start against lefty Nate Bertness (3.64). First pitch is scheduled for 7:15 p.m.

Lefties deal in the Chukars’ 7-3 win over Billings

Idaho Falls pitcher Richard Lovelady closes out Thursday’s 7-3 win over the Billings Mustangs at Melaleuca Field. (Courtesy of Steve Thayer)
Idaho Falls pitcher Richard Lovelady closes out Thursday’s 7-3 win over the Billings Mustangs at Melaleuca Field. (Courtesy of Steve Thayer)

Another solid start, a hot lineup and a fresh mustache keyed the Idaho Falls Chukars’ second straight win.

The Chukars ended the seven-game homestand with a 7-3 win over the Billings Mustangs on Thursday night at Melaleuca Field. The win over the Pioneer League’s best team gave I.F. its first back-to-back victories in August.

Lefties shine

Matt Portland started a string of a strong starting pitching performances on the homestand. The left-hander topped off the seven home games with another solid start.

Portland pitched five innings, allowing three runs (one earned) one five hits and three walks with six strikeouts.

“We worked a lot on his tempo, with the idea of throwing it through the strike zone instead of to the strike zone,” Chukars pitching coach Jeff Suppan said.

Every Chukars starter on the homestand pitched at least four innings, and the most earned runs any of them allowed was two.

Drew Milligan entered Thursday’s game with a 9.27 ERA, which ballooned thanks to nine earned runs over his previous four innings. The left-hander said he was thinking too much about mechanics, but there was also something missing. He needed mustache.

Milligan said he pitched well in extended spring training, the last time he sported a thick mustache. A couple weeks ago, he decided to bring it back. The stache grew back to spring training form Thursday, when he pitched three scoreless innings. Was it due to the mustache?

“One-hundred percent,” Milligan said. “It’s gotta stay, for sure.”

Milligan didn’t allow a hit or a walk, and he struck out three. His strikeout-to-walk ratio is now 28-to-7, and he still hasn’t allowed a home run.

“It’s a process,” Suppan said. “‘What makes me more intense? What makes me less intense? How do I take the same intensity every game?’ That’s what they’re learning, and Milly did a really nice job tonight.”

Lefty Richard Lovelady closed the game out with another perfect ninth inning. Lovelady has allowed one earned run in seven innings with the Chukars. He’s struck out nine, walked one and allowed four hits.

Sending them home

A week ago, the Chukars were struggling with runners in scoring position to an unsustainable degree. They went 1 for 25 with runners on second and/or third at Billings over the weekend, and they only slightly improved to start the homestand.

I.F. went 4 for 11 (.364) with runners in scoring position during Wednesday’s 7-5 win. That number swelled to 6 for 12 on Thursday.

In the bottom of the fourth, I.F. had a 4-2 lead with Luke Willis on third, one out and Ricky Aracena at the plate. The Chukars shortstop hit a high chopper to the left side, and pitcher Patrick Riehl appeared to touch it before it hit the ground and bounced foul. But home plate umpire Trevor Danneger ruled it foul, even after a discussion with base umpire Chris Sundvold.

The call looked like an omen, the way the Chukars had played earlier in the homestand. Instead, Aracena walked, Meibrys Viloria drove Willis home, and Aracena scored on a groundout.

Player of the game 

Chukars second baseman Angelo Castellano 

Castellano led all hitters with three hits, and he finished 3 for 4 with an RBI and two runs scored. But he also earns this honor for the impressive range, body control and arm strength he displayed at second all night.

Up next

The Chukars (29-27, 7-11 second half) get Friday off and start a six-game road trip Saturday. Arnaldo Hernandez is scheduled to start against fellow righty Alejandro Requena in game one of a four-game series against the Grand Junction Rockies.

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