Chukars down Brewers 6-4, take 2-1 series lead

The back-and-forth series between Helena and Idaho Falls continued Thursday as the Chukars took a 2-1 series lead with one game remaining in their homestand with the Brewers.

One night after being held to two runs on eight hits, the Chukars held off the Brewers 6-4 at Melaleuca Field. Their win, coupled with Ogden’s loss to Missoula, brings the Chukars (16-11) one game back of Pioneer League South Division leading Ogden (17-10).

Idaho Falls led 5-1 through four innings Thursday, capped off by an RBI single from Tyler James and James scoring on an error in the bottom of the fourth. Helena (14-13), however, cut into the deficit with a three-run seventh inning off Jesus Lujano’s RBI single and runs by Lujano and Jose Sibrian after a force out. Idaho Falls’ Brady Cox scored the final run of the game in the bottom of the eighth off a Kyle Kasser single to center field.

Tyler Gray got the win for the Chukars to move his record to 1-1, allowing three runs (one earned) on four hits while walking three and striking out five in 4.2 innings. Daniel Duarte earned the save, allowing no runs on no hits while walking none and striking out one in 0.1 innings.

Outfielder Jose Caraballo was solid for the Chukars, going 2 for 4 with a double, a triple, an RBI and a run scored. Nathan Eaton went 1 for 4 with a solo home run, an RBI and a run scored, James went 2 for 5 with an RBI and a run scored and Kyle Kasser went 2 for 4 with an RBI and a run scored.

The final game of the four-game series is tonight with first pitch scheduled for 7:15 p.m. at Melaleuca Field.

Brewers take game two from Chukars, 12-2

A night after compiling 18 hits in a game that had no errors, the Idaho Falls Chukars committed four errors and managed two runs on eight hits Wednesday.

A six-run fifth inning broke a 1-1 tie and broke open the game for the Helena Brewers en route to a 12-2 win in game two of a four-game series at Melaleuca Field. Seven of Helena’s 11 hits were for extra bases, including home runs by Chad McClanahan and David Fry. The Chukars were held scoreless from the third through eighth innings, ending the night with seven runners left on base compared to three left on base for Helena (14-12).

The loss puts Idaho Falls’ record at 15-11, two games back of Pioneer League South Division Leader Ogden in the season’s first half standings.

Eldred took the loss, allowing nine runs (six earned) on nine hits while walking one and striking out three in six innings pitched. Reed Rohlman went 1 for 3 with a double and two runs scored, Nick Hutchins went 1 for 3 with a double and an RBI and Kyle Isbel went 2 for 3 for the Chukars.

Wilfred Salaman took the win for Helena, allowing one run (earned) on five hits while walking one and striking out three in six innings pitched. Yeison Coca (3 for 5 with a triple, an RBI three runs scored) and Jean Carmona (2 for 4 with two triples, two RBIs and two runs scored) led Helena at the plate.

The teams meet again tonight for game three of the four-game series. First pitch is 7:15 p.m. at Melaleuca Field.

Chukars begin Helena series with hit parade

Chukars’ Angel Medina rounds third on his way to home after a hit by Nathan Eaton in the third inning as the Chukars take on the Helena Brewers at Melaleuca Field on Tuesday. John Roark/ jroark@postregister.com

By PAUL LAMBERT
prsports@postregister.com

In the duel between the unstoppable force and the immovable object, force scored a big win Tuesday night at Melaleuca Field.

The force that is the Idaho Falls hitting machine won out in a 15-8 win over the visiting Helena Brewers, pounding out 17 hits against the Pioneer League’s best pitching staff.

Helena entered the game as the immovable object, bringing its league-low 3.82 earned run average into the series opener.

The Chukars came in hitting at a league-best .304 clip through 24 games, and with the wind blowing out to center field at 15 mph, the deck was considerably stacked for the home team.

Speaking of stacked, such was the stat line of Idaho Falls first baseman reigning Pioneer League Player of the Week Reed Rohlman.

Rohlman finished a double shy of the cycle with a 3-run homer, a 3-run triple and seven RBIs.

Add to that the fact the Chukars were starting former Arizona Wildcats pitching standout J.C. Cloney.

Chukars’ J.C. Cloney pitches in the second inning as the Chukars take on the Helena Brewers at Melaleuca Field on Tuesday. John Roark/ jroark@postregister.com

Cloney, a lefty fireballer, has proven to be the ace of the pitching staff thus far in 2018, and entered Tuesday’s game with a tidy 1.05 ERA.

Cloney was put to the test early, however, giving up a solo shot to Helena’s Nick Egnatuk in the second.

Things nearly fell apart for Cloney in the third as the southpaw put two runners in scoring position with no outs, but slipped free of the noose with a pop-up, a strikeout and a groundout.

On the other side of the ledger, Idaho Falls was pounding Helena starter Justin Bullock, posting eight runs over the first four innings to take an early 8-2 lead.

Batting out of the five hole, Rohlman opened the scoring with his homer, bringing the home crowd of 2,278 to its feet with a bomb to right center in the first.

Not to be outdone, Idaho Falls second baseman and Chukars’ clean-up hitter Nathan Eaton finished 4-for-4 with three runs, pushing his team-best batting average to .409.

Angel Medina and Kyle Isbell also had multiple hit games for the Chukars, combining to score six runs.

Tuesday night’s game was the first of seven straight home games for the Chukars (15-10), including tonight’s game against Helena (13-12). First pitch is scheduled for 7:15 p.m.

Idaho Falls kept pace with Pioneer League South Division leading Ogden, and enter tonight’s game one game back of the Raptors in the first-half standings.

Chukars hold off Owlz rally for 11-8 win

At Orem, the Idaho Falls Chukars took an early lead against the Owlz and hung on later in the game for an 11-8 win.

The win moves the Chukars to 14-9 on the season and keeps them in second place in the Pioneer League South Division standings, one game back of first-place Ogden.

A wild pitch, a two-run home run by Reed Rohlman and a two-RBI single by Andres Martin gave the Chukars six runs in the fifth inning to put them ahead 9-1. The Owlz began to rally late, however, scoring four runs in the bottom of the seventh inning including two from a Kiki Menendez home run. Orem furthermore cut into the deficit with a three-run eighth inning capped off by a two-RBI single from Nonie Williams to make it 11-8 Idaho Falls. Neither team scored in the ninth inning, however, securing the win for the Chukars.

Nick Hutchins went 2 for 4 with a home run, a double, two RBIs and three runs scored, Rohlman went 2 for 5 with a home run, two RBIs and two runs scored and Kyle Kasser went 2 for 4 with a double, two RBIs and two runs scored for Idaho Falls. Jonathan Bowlan took the win on the mound, allowing one run (earned) on two hits while walking two and striking out six in five innings

Game two of the road series in Orem is today at 4:05 p.m.

Chukars shut out for first time this season

At Melaleuca Field, the Orem Owlz dealt the Idaho Falls Chukars their first shutout loss of the season after a big night by Mario Sanjur.

A catcher, Sanjur ended the evening 3 for 4 with a double, three RBIs and a run scored for the Owls (7-14). The Chukars (12-9) mustered six hits against Orem in a 7-0 loss and left nine on base.

The Owlz, who are in fourth in the Pioneer League South Division, built a 4-0 lead through three innings thanks to RBI singles by Sanjur (two) and and Cam Williams. They stretched their lead to 7-0 after a Tim Millard home run, an RBI double by Kiki Menendez and an RBI double by Sanjur.

Reed Rohlman went 2 for 3 and Carlos Diaz went 2 for 4 to lead the Chukars at the plate. Idaho Falls recorded no extra base hits in Thursday’s contest.

Kris Bubic, the Kansas City Royals’ first round draft pick this year (40th overall) started on the mound for Idaho Falls and recorded the loss. He allowed three runs (two earned) on three hits while walking two and striking out one in 2.2 innings.

The Chukars remain in second place in the South Division standings through Thursday, two games behind first-place Ogden. Game three of Idaho Falls’ three-game home series with Orem is tonight at 7:15 p.m. at Melaleuca Field.

Chukars beat Owlz on Fourth of July, 3-1

By LUKE O’ROARK | @LukeORoark
Loroark@postregister.com

Another Independence Day, another Chukars win.

In front of a sold-out crowd of 3,686, Idaho Falls beat the Orem Owlz, 3-1, Wednesday thanks to C.J. Eldred’s solid command on the mound and Tyler James quick base running.

Chukars’ Connor Mayes reacts after Chukars’ Nathan Eaton scores in the second inning as the Chukars take on Grand Junction Rockies at Melaleuca Field on Thursday, June 28, 2018. John Roark/ jroark@postregister.com

Eldred worked the Owlz’ struggling offense with five strikeouts and trust in his defense by putting the ball in play. The Chukars allowed just one error — a fielding error from third baseman Nate Eaton — in the top of the eighth to allow the Owlz’ only run.

The Owlz would never threaten again, as Eldred (3-0) went seven innings, allowing just three hits and one walk. Robert Garcia recorded his second save of the season, closing the door in the final two frames.

“It was nice,” Chukars manager Omar Ramirez said. “We had a rough series in Ogden, the pitching wasn’t there. We struggled on the mound. … It’s nice to see the pitching keep us in the game. I always say that: just keep us in the game. Just go out there, we don’t need a shut out, just keep us in the game. We have a good offensive team.”

For James, the speedster from Slidell, Louisiana, went 2 for 3 and kept the Chukars’ offense honest with four stolen bases.

James said he’s pride himself on being aggressive on the bases this season. He leads the Pioneer League with 12 stolen bases this summer. The second? Ian Dawkins and teammate Kyle Isbel with seven.

“Well, the coaching staff told me that I need to be a little bit more aggressive and trust my speed,” James said. “And be a game changer.

The Chukars scored their three runs early, with Eaton hitting in a triple to score James during the bottom of the first. James then scored the Chukars’ next two runs on wild pitches from Nick Jobst.

“That is my game: get on base anyway I can whether it’s a walk, hit, error, bunt. And just try to score runs. Try to get in scoring position for the guys that knock me in,” James added.

Jose Caraballo went 2 for 4 at the plate, as the Chukars (sporting nifty, firework jerseys) collected eight hits.

“The jerseys are pretty sweet,” James added with a smile.

Player(s) of the game

Tyler James and CJ Eldred. The quick centerfielder went 2 for 3, including two stolen bases in the bottom of the third before sliding home on a wild pitch. He scored two runs.

Eldred (3-0) was solid on the mound. He shut out the Owlz during his seven innings pitched, allowing just three hits and one walk.

Quotable

“That is the Kansas City Royal’s identity. Run, run, run, run, run. I like to run (the bases, put pressure on defenses). That’s the Royals’ identity. And personally, I’m that type of manager.” — Omar Ramirez on Tyler James’ stolen bases.

Notable

– Idaho Falls sold out Melaleuca Field Wednesday, hosting 3,686.

– The Chukars have not loss on July 4th since 2015.

– During the bottom of the first, Reed Rohlman’s bat slipped out of his hands, eventually landing in the stands behind the first baseline. No one was injured.

– Orem starting pitcher Hector Yan injuried himself after one inning pitched. He allowed one hit, one run (earned) and one walk.

– Nate Eaton hit in his fourth triple Wednesday.

Upnext

The Chukars (12-8) return to Melaleuca Field Thursday to play game two of three against Orem (7-13). First pitch is at 7:15 p.m.

Chukars notebook: Some split on new MiLB extra innings changes

Chukars’ Tyler James is called out at third as the Chukars take on Grand Junction Rockies at Melaleuca Field on Thursday, June 28, 2018. John Roark/ jroark@postregister.com

By LUKE O’ROARK | Loroark@postregister.com
@LukeORoark

When the Idaho Falls Chukars and Grand Junction Rockies went to extra innings Friday at Melaleuca Field, Chukars fans saw something they probably haven’t seen: a free base runner starting on second at the start of every extra inning.

In March, the National Association of Professional Baseball incorporated a new rule regarding extra innings: if a minor league game goes to extra innings, both teams start with a base runner on second at the beginning of inning. The base runner at second is the inning’s leadoff hitter and is statistically counted as runner who’s reaching on an error (for purposes of determining earned runs), but no errors shall be charged.

This new policy was seen at Melaleuca Field for the first time Friday in the Chukars’ 7-6 12-inning win.

Chukars manager Omar Ramirez said the new rule doesn’t change their offensive gameplan much. Before Kyle Isbel ended the game with an RBI single to left field, both teams utilized small ball tactics. While the rule isn’t necessarily new to the minor league system — Ramirez said the Arizona League utilized the rule last summer — he was supportive of the new overhaul, as it saves team’s pitching and has the potential to keep players healthy.

“It depends on the hitter. Are we bunting or not?” said Ramirez when asked if strategies change due to the new rule. “Like, we’re not going to bunt when (Reed Rohlman) came to bat. Because he can get a double, hit it. With (Offerman Collado) or (Tyler James) we can bunt it. It depends on the hitter.”

“Let’s see how long it stays,” Ramirez added.

Chukars’ Nick Hutchins heads to third on a ground hit as the Chukars take on the Ogden Raptors during opening day at Melaleuca Field on Friday, June 15, 2018. John Roark/ jroark@posteegister.com

The policy was created to try to keep players healthy, as well as speed up minor league games. The average time of a nine-inning game in the minor leagues was two hours, 45 minutes in 2016 and 2:29 last year, according to ESPN.

Friday’s game, while anecdotal, finished in three hours, 58 minutes.

“We believe these changes to extra innings will enhance the fans’ enjoyment of the game and will become something that the fans will look forward to on nights where the game is tied late in the contest,” NAPBL president Pat O’Conner said in a March 14 report from ESPN. “Player safety has been an area of growing concern for our partners at the Major League Baseball level, and the impact that lengthy extra innings games has on pitchers, position players and an entire organization was something that needed to be addressed.”

Chukars’ designated hitter Nate Eaton said he was unaware of the rule change until Friday.

“I honestly didn’t know (about the new rule) until they said that I was the base runner when I went out there,” said Eaton, who finished 4 for 5 at the plate with two doubles. “I probably haven’t had that since I was 12-years-old. I mean, I don’t agree with the rule because I don’t think it should be easier to score runs quicker. If the game is going that long, it’s going that long for a reason and that’s because good baseball is being played, or bad baseball is being played on one side.”

Eaton said the game could be just as prolonged due to how offensive-orientated minor league games are.

“Oh yes, because you could easily score off a bunt and then a hit or sacrifice fly. Or go 0-0, just like we did there, and it keeps going,” Eaton said.

Standings (as of June 30th)

Pioneer League North

Great Falls Voyagers (CWS) 8-6

Helena Brewers (MIL) 8-6

Missoula Osprey (ARI) 7-6

Billings Mustangs (CIN) 4-9

Pioneer League South

Idaho Falls Chukars (KC) 10-5

Ogden Raptors (LAD) 9-6

Grand Junction Rockies (COL) 6-9

Orem Owlz (LAA) 5-10

Increasing stock

J.C. Cloney, Kyle Isbel and Jose Caraballo.

After his batting average hit a lowly .111 on June 19, Caraballo has garnered a hit in eight-straight games for Idaho Falls. He’s gone 12-35 at the plate since his hitting streak started.

For Cloney, the 2017 ninth-round pick out of Castaic, Cali., has molded into the Chukars’ ace. The reliable southpaw is 3-0 with an ERA of 1.35. He’s struck 21 batters out — including 11 during his first start — and has allowed three earned runs on 14 hits.

As with Isbel, he’s batted .372 since joining the Chukars on June 19. He went 3 for 6 Friday night and gave the Chukars their third-straight win after hitting in Tyler James with an RBI single to left field in the bottom of the 12th.

Decreasing stock

Tyler Gray. In his first two starts with the Chukars, Gray owns a 15.88 ERA. He’s allowed 10 earned runs on 11 hits in 5.2 innings of work. He’s struck out seven and walked two.

Recent transactions (from June 24 to June 30)

– Left-handed pitcher Derrick Adams was assigned to Idaho Falls from Burlington on June 28.

– Right-handed pitcher Daniel Duarte was loaned to Idaho Falls from Tigres de Quintana Roo on June 30.

– Second baseman Carlos Diaz was assigned to Idaho Falls from the AZL Royals on June 30.

– Idaho Falls released left-handed pitcher Michael Messier on June 30. Messier was with the Chukars for 18 days (June 12).

– Idaho Falls released left-handed pitcher Joey Markus on June 30. Markus was with the Chukars for 18 days (June 12).

Upcoming

Idaho Falls is amidst a four-game away series at Ogden. The Chukars will be back Wednesday, July 4, to host Orem for three games. First pitch Wednesday is 4:30 p.m.

Rockies close the door on Chukars late

By LUKE O’ROARK | @LukeORoark
Loroark@postregister.com

Not many quick, close games happen in the Pioneer League.

Chukars’ Jose Caraballo and Jose Marquez round the bases as the Chukars take on the Ogden Raptors during opening day at Melaleuca Field on Friday, June 15, 2018. John Roark/ jroark@posteegister.com

But a quick, close game is exactly what 2,869 Melaleuca Field attendees got Tuesday night.

The Grand Junction Rockies beat the Chukars 4-2 thanks to a three-run seventh inning and holding the Chukars scoreless in the final five frames.

The only stat most fans need to know after Tuesday: Idaho Falls is 0-5 when trailing after the eighth this season.

And indeed, the Chukars trailed after the Rockies scored three runs in the top of the seventh to take a two-run lead.

Down 4-2, the Chukars attempted to rally after a Jesus Atencio double in the bottom of the ninth got him to third and Andres Martin reached second after being walked.

But on a 2-2 count, with two outs, Alexander Martinez closed the doors on the hometown bird, striking out Offerman Collado.

Originally up 2-1, a throwing error by Collado, a Reese Berberet home run and a Cristopher Navarro RBI single to third was all Grand Junction need to get back into Tuesday’s game and hand the Chukars their fifth loss of the season.

The Chukars scored first Tuesday, as Tyler James reached home after Kyle Isbel grounded into a double play. The Chukars then scored another run in the bottom of the fourth thanks to a Nate Eaton ground out that scored first baseman Reed Rohlman.

Domingo Pena (1-1) took the loss, giving up three runs (one earned) on four hits while walking two and striking out four in 4.2 innings. Eris Filpo took the win, allowing two runs (both earned) on seven hits while walking three and striking out three in six innings.

Player(s) of the game

Offerman Collado. The shortstop was the Chukars’ most consistent at-bat Tuesday night. He went 3 for 5 at the plate. He did, however, have one throwing error and struck out during the last at-bat of the game.

Notables

– Jose Caraballo’s hit streak has reached six games. Jesus Atencio’s hitting streak has now reached five games.

– Rockies’ Cristopher Navarro was hit in the hand in the top of the ninth, but the play was called foul tip. Navarro was eventually walked.

– The Chukars’ offense has been sluggish as of late, scoring just three runs in the previous two games.

Upnext

The Chukars (7-5) host the Rockies today at Melaleuca Field. First pitch is scheduled for 7:15 p.m.

Chukars’ notebook: Olloque, fast start for Chukars

Chukars’ Nick Hutchins heads to third on a ground hit as the Chukars take on the Ogden Raptors during opening day at Melaleuca Field on Friday, June 15, 2018. John Roark/ jroark@posteegister.com

By LUKE O’ROARK | Loroark@postregister.com
@LukeORoark

You better get to Melalueca Field quick: some of the Chukars’ best are moving up rather quickly.

After Manny Olloque blasted two home runs against Ogden, he was recently bumped up to Lexington.

At Chukars media day earlier in the month, he mentioned the difficulty of moving up and down and around the country for minor league ball.

“You definitely have to have to have faith that’s for sure,” Olloque said on June 13. “You just gotta trust the process and can’t look to far ahead of that. Just play everyday and try not to worry too much about the other little things. … I got caught up with it this year, you know, but I’ve been staying strong with it and just having fun.”

Despite playing in triple-A Omaha for nine games earlier in the year, Olloque came back down to the rookie-A level, bring some experience and early season offense to Melaleuca Field. Chukars manager Omar Ramirez said Olloque wasn’t going to be held up in triple-A for too long — he was called up as an emergency call, per Ramirez — but it was clear from Chukars’ opening day that Olloque wouldn’t be in Idaho Falls for too long either.

He batted .474 in 19 at-bats, knocking in nine RBIs, two home runs, a triple and two doubles. One of his two home runs was a grand slam.

Chukars’ J.C. Cloney pitches in the third inning as the Chukars take on the Ogden Raptors during opening day at Melaleuca Field on Friday, June 15, 2018. John Roark/ jroark@posteegister.com

“I’ve learned to humble myself,” Olloque said. “I know this game isn’t going to last forever, and I know there’s more to (life) than baseball. Just having a closer relationship with God lets me stuff in different perspective. Just try to be not too high, not too low, just even keel.”

“Manny is a good hitter,” said Ramirez after the Chukars’ opening day win. “Manny has always been a good hitter and he’s going to be a good help for the team.”

Even with Olloque gone, though, the Chukars still have a plethora of solid contact hitters. They’re batting .332 through eight games — the highest in the Pioneer League — as of June 23.

Kansas City Royals’ third-round pick Kyle Isbel has been sharp his first few games with the rookie-A affiliate. He’s batting .500. Offerman Collado, Julio Gonzalez, Nick Hutchins and Andres Martin should be steady hands at the plate this summer.

Collado and Gonzalez, in their second stints in Idaho Falls, are batting .368 and .364, respectively. Hutchins has batted .321 in a team-high 28 at-bats. He is tied for first in doubles (3) alongside Isbel and first baseman Reed Rohlman.

While only suiting up for three games thus far, Martin’s small sample size is promising. He’s gone 5 for 11 and knocked in two RBIs. He’s truck out once and walked once.

In terms of pitching, the Chukars’ have vastly improved from a year ago. A year ago, the Chukars were one of the worst — if not, the worst — pitching club in the Pioneer League. Now, they’re among the top.

Of course, minor league teams change rapidly and it’s early in the season, but the Chukars currently rank one of the better rotations and bullpens in the league.

The team’s ERA is 4.43 (second-best in the Pioneer) with their WHIP at 1.35 (tied for second best).

JC Cloney (2-0) is molding into a reliable ace, giving up just 10 hits and three earned runs in 13 innings pitched. He’s struck out 16 and has a WHIP of 0.77. Domingo Pena (1-0) looked sharp in his one appearance thus far. He holds a 1.80 ERA with a 0.80 WHIP.

Again, it’s early. But the Chukars have solid pieces to be excited about if you follow the Royals’ farming system.

“I think it will be a strong group of pitchers and I think that they’re going to be learning just like everybody else will be learning,” Chukars’ pitching coach Jeff Suppan said prior to the season starting.

Standings

Pioneer League North

Helena Brewers (MIL) 4-2

Missoula Osprey (ARI) 3-2

Great Falls Voyagers (CWS) 3-4

Billings Mustangs (CIN) 2-4

Pioneer League South

Idaho Falls Chukars (KC) 6-2

Grand Junction Rockies (COL) 4-4

Ogden Raptors (LAD) 3-5

Orem Owlz (LAA) 3-5

Increasing stock

Kyle Isbel. Since joining the Chukars on June 18, Isbel has proved to be a reliable at-bat for Idaho Falls. In the past five games, the third-round pick has batted 10 for 20 (.500) with seven RBIs, three doubles and seven runs. He’s struck oout twice.

Decreasing stock

Jose Caraballo. Since June 15, Caraballo went 6 for 27 (.222) at the plate including a four-game stretch where the 21-year-old went 0 for 14. His slump could be ending shortly, though, as he’s registered back-t0-back two-hit games at Grand Junction.

Recent transactions (from June 18 to June 23)

– Right-handed pitcher Joe Ramirez assigned to Idaho Falls from DSL Royals2.

– Left-handed pitcher Marcelo Martinez assigned to Idaho Falls from DSL Royals2.

– Catcher Jesus Atencio assigned to Idaho Falls from Burlington Royals.

– Catcher Nathan Easton assigned to Idaho Falls.

– Right-handed pitcher Dillon Drabble assigned to Idaho Falls from Burlington Royals.

– Shortstop Kyle Krasser assigned to Idaho Falls.

– Right-handed pitcher Jon Heasley assigned to Idaho Fals.

– Right-handed pitcher Tyler Gray assigned to Idaho Falls

– Right-handed pitcher Jonathan Bowlan assistned to Idaho Falls Chukars.

– Centerfielder Isaiah Smith assigned to Idaho Falls from AZL Royals.

Upcoming

The Chukars play at Orem until Monday before hosting Grand Junction for a four-game homestand starting Tuesday. First pitch is 7:15 p.m. at Melaleuca Field.

Chukars down Raptors in season-opening pitching duel

Chukars’ Offerman Collado fileds a grounder to throw out Raptors’ Jair Camargo as the Chukars take on the Ogden Raptors during opening day at Melaleuca Field on Friday, June 15, 2018. John Roark/ jroark@posteegister.com

By LUKE O’ROARK | @LukeORoark
Loroark@postregister.com

Gloomy weather hung over Melaleuca Field to start the Idaho Falls Chukars’ season opener. The night ended with fireworks and a win, though.

The Chukars defeated the Raptors 4-2 Friday to start the season 1-0 for the third consecutive season.

JC Cloney got the win on the mound, striking out 11 and surrendering two earned runs on four hits in seven innings pitched. After a shaky, 2-run first inning, Cloney quickly settled his command, working Friday’s strike zone with breaking balls before Robert Garcia closed the game out with a save.

At one point, Cloney retired 12-straight during the middle innings.

“That was good to see a well-pitched game in this league,” Chukars Omar Ramirez said. “That doesn’t happen very often. It’s a nice to see a game well pitched.”

Down 2-0 to start their freshly new campaign, the Chukars responded with two runs in the bottom of the third. Cleanup hitter Nick Hutchins hit in the first run of the 2018 Chukars’ season, popping an RBI single into the right field gaps to score Freddy Fermin.

After Reed Rohlman scored Manny Olloque later in the bottom of the third, Friday’s game quickly became a classic pitchers’ duel.

That was, of course, until Olloque hit in Fermin with a line drive to left field in the seventh.

Chukars’ Jose Caraballo and Jose Marquez round the bases as the Chukars take on the Ogden Raptors during opening day at Melaleuca Field on Friday, June 15, 2018. John Roark/ jroark@posteegister.com

“I was just looking for a pitch to drive to score the run and I’m glad we won,” Olloque said. “That’s all that matters.”

Up 3-2, Jose Marquez added an insurance in the bottom of the eighth, eventually setting up Garcia to close the door on the 2017 Pioneer League champions.

He did — as the Chukars’ season began with patriotic fireworks and the cliched Journey song, “Don’t Stop Believing”.

“Everybody pitched good, hit good, good defense,” Olloque said. “Overall, good win.”

Player (s) of the Game

JC Cloney and Manny Olloque.

Cloney’s command was impressive Friday night. After surrendering two runs in the top of the first inning, Cloney settled in and attacked the zone. He struck 11 out in seven innings.

Olloque finished 2 for 4 at the plate, driving home a run in the bottom of the seventh. He had one run and one RBI.

Quotable

“I go day-by-day. Like I said, we played a good game, we played good defense, very good defense we played. I always say if we have two of these three things: pitching, defense and timely hitting, situational hitting. If you have two of those, you’re in good shape every time you take the field. … We had all three of them. It won’t happen every night, but it’s nice to see the first game of the season.” — Chukars manager Omar Ramirez

Notes

– The Chukars have won three-straight season openers. They’re last season-opening loss was June 18, 2015 (16-10 to Grand Junction).

– Billy “Country Breakfast” Butler performed a solo home run derby before Friday’s game. Butler, a 2012 Silver Slugger with the Kansas City Royals, played for the Chukars in 2004.

– Attendance was announced at 3,132, per the Chukars’ organization.

Upnext

The Chukars host the Ogden Raptors Saturday at Melaleuca Field for game two of a four-game home stand. First pitch is at 7:15 p.m.