Tag: Brawlun Gomez

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 Notebook: Divergent first-half records

Viloria
Viloria

The first half of the Pioneer League baseball season will conclude in four days, and the Idaho Falls Chukars are tied for first place in the South Division. The Chukars have already won 20 games, a mark they didn’t reach last summer until August.

With 20 new players this season, I.F. was bound to play differently than last year’s team. But this much improvement is impossible to predict. Here are a few key areas of success for I.F. this half:

Deep lineup 

Alexis Rivera was one of the Pioneer League’s best hitters last season before moving up to Single-A Lexington (he was released this spring but signed a minor-league contract with the Los Angeles Angels). Josh Banuelos and Amalani Fukofuka painted the field with hits, as well, especially in the first half. The dropoff between those three and the rest of the lineup was Yellowstone Falls-esque.

Shortstop Marten Gasparini and second baseman D.J. Burt hovered around the Mendoza line. When right fielder Brawlun Gomez wasn’t hitting home runs, he was probably striking out. Third baseman Ryan Dale was never productive.

This year’s lineup is as deep as it relentless. I.F. has five wins this season when it trailed in the seventh inning or later, and that’s despite an error-prone defense and a shaky bullpen.

The bats are highlighted by catcher Meibrys Viloria, who transcends hyperbole. He leads the Pioneer League in five categories: batting average, on-base percentage, OPS, doubles and RBIs.

Viloria’s season has rendered many of his teammates underrated, namely third baseman Manny Olloque, right fielder Yeison Melo, outfielder Luke Willis and first baseman David Edwards.

Outfielder Tanner Stanley and first basemen Colton Frabasilio and Brandon Dulin were all promoted after each hitting over .300 in I.F. Newer starters like second baseman Jordan Ebert and outfielders Nick Heath and Rudy Martin have filled in admirably.

The only mediocre everyday hitters are Ricky Aracena and Angelo Castellano, and even the 5-foot-8 Aracena has trouble fitting into that category. The shortstop was hitting .282 with a .702 OPS through Friday.

The Chukars have already scored 274 runs (8.1 per game) this summer. They mustered 238 (6.3 per game) in the first half of 2015.

Improved pitching 

None of I.F.’s 2016 starters own ERAs worse than 7.00. Three I.F. starters had ERAs above 7.00 at this point last season, which led to more innings for a shaky bullpen. This year’s bullpen has been inconsistent, but manager Justin Gemoll has three arms with sub-4.00 ERAs at his disposal.

The biggest difference between these two staffs: strikes.

I.F. had issued 3.4 walks per game going into Saturday. Last year’s team averaged 3.8. Like nearly every 2015 pitching stat, that number was much higher in the first half.

Home comfort

The Chukars are 5-10 on the road this season, not far off from their 5-13 record away from home in the first half last season. The obvious key difference is at home.

I.F.’s home record this summer is 15-4, easily the best in the Pioneer League. The Chukars’ home run differential is plus-60, as well. The club went 8-12 at Melaleuca Field in first half last year, and they were outscored by 12 runs in those 20 games.

CC RAKING IN KC 

Cheslor Cuthbert moved up from Triple-A to the Kansas City Royals in May to fill-in for another former Chukar, Mike Moustakas. The All-Star third baseman is out for the season with a torn ACL, but Cuthbert has done his best to fix the broken hearts in Kansas City.

A 2-for-3 performance Saturday lifted Cuthbert’s batting average over .300 and his OPS over .800, the second time that’s happened in 63 games this season (the first time was in his fourth game).

Cuthbert’s progression has been linear. He hit .253 with a .601 OPS in May, .283 and .844 in June and .377 and .958 thus far in July. He also has nine home runs on the year.

Cuthbert played 14 games for I.F. in 2010 as a 17-year-old. He got a cup of coffee with Kansas City last season, when he hit .217 with a .650 OPS in 19 games.

ROSTER MOVES 

The Royals haven’t initiated much movement with the Chukars roster the last two weeks. In fact, I.F. has undergone just two makeovers since July 5.

July 13: Chukars outfielder Tanner Stanley moves up to Lexington. Fellow outfielder Leland Clemmons is released. Second baseman Jordan Ebert, outfielder Rudy Martin and right-handed pitcher Paul Young are promoted from the Arizona League to I.F.

July 16: Double-A Northwest Arkansas activates left-hander Sam Selman from the 7-day disabled list, ending his rehab assignment with the Chukars.

WHO’S HOT? 

RHP Andres Machado 

Machado had a 13.50 ERA after his first start. That number shriveled to 4.00 after Monday’s gem against Missoula.

Machado didn’t allow a run or a walk in five innings against the Osprey. He gave up one hit and struck out four.

Machado’s stinginess doesn’t end there. He has allowed one earned run on 11 hits, one walk and 17 strikeouts in his last 14 innings pitched.

WHO’S NOT? 

INF Angelo Castellano

Castellano’s batting average was as high as .280 on July 4. Since then he’s gone 12 for 56 (.214). He still has a solid OBP (.350 through Friday), but his patience has waned lately. And Castellano has only hit five extra-base hits all season, including none for home runs.

Orem beats Chukars 10-3 in second-to-last regular season game

At Orem, Utah, Orem rode a five-run third inning to an easy 10-3 win over the Chukars a day after Idaho Falls clinched the Pioneer League South Division second-half title.

Orem had five extra-base hits, including a home run from Ranyelmy Alberto.

Brawlun Gomez went 2 for 4 with a triple and his team-leading 11th home run to lead the Chukars, but the rest of the lineup managed just two singles from Rudy Martin and Luis Lara.

Chukars tie Ogden for division lead with 10-5 win

By VICTOR FLORES
vflores@postregister.com

Tuesday’s game wasn’t a must-win for the Idaho Fall Chukars, but it was close.

Idaho Falls' D.J. Burt makes the play at second base and completes the throw in time for a double play dispite the efforts of Odgen's Gage Green to break up the double during Tuesday night's game at Melaleuca Field. (Monte LaOrange / mlaorange@postregister.com)
Idaho Falls’ D.J. Burt makes the play at second base and completes the throw in time for a double play dispite the efforts of Odgen’s Gage Green to break up the double during Tuesday night’s game at Melaleuca Field. (Monte LaOrange / mlaorange@postregister.com)

I.F. went in trailing the Ogden Raptors by one game in the Pioneer League South Division, and the Chukars hosted the Raptors for a two-game series starting Tuesday.

The Chukars are now tied for the second-half division lead after handling the Raptors 10-5 at Melaleuca Field. I.F. manager Justin Gemoll said his team has a one-game-at-a-time mindset, but the Chukars know the stakes. Seven games remain in the regular season.

“I’ve never been in a playoff before,” said Chukars catcher Xavier Fernandez, who transferred from the Burlington Royals on Monday. “I feel so excited, and I can’t even explain it.”

The Chukars scored first with a three-run bottom of the first inning. Two runs scored on an error, and Fernandez (3 for 5) hit an RBI single after a long at-bat.

Ogden scored once in the top of the second, but I.F. built on the lead in the bottom half. Center fielder Cody Jones kicked the scoring off with an RBI triple.

Next up was D.J. Burt, who hit a towering fly ball to left field. Left fielder Alex Santana froze as the ball went airborne, appearing to be camped under it. But Santana didn’t know where the ball was, and neither did most of Melaleuca Field. Even Burt thought it was an out.

Santana’s confusion didn’t matter. Burt’s fly ball landed over the wall, 410 feet away.

After 273 plate appearances, Burt had his first home run of the season.

“Finally,” said Burt, who hit two blasts in 163 plate appearances for Burlington last season. “It feels good.”

Gemoll, the third base coach, gave Burt a high five but didn’t exchange words with the 19-year-old as he rounded third.

“He was too busy smiling,” Gemoll said.

The Chukars scored four runs in the second inning, taking a 7-1 lead.

Idaho Falls' pitcher Julio Pinto fielded the ball and caught Odgen's Matt Jones between bases during Tuesday night's game at Melaleuca Field. (Monte LaOrange / mlaorange@postregister.com)
Idaho Falls’ pitcher Julio Pinto fielded the ball and caught Odgen’s Matt Jones between bases during Tuesday night’s game at Melaleuca Field. (Monte LaOrange / mlaorange@postregister.com)

I.F. extended the lead to 8-1 on a Brawlun Gomez home run (420 feet), but Ogden cut it to 8-5 with a four-run fourth. The Chukars added some insurance with a two-run sixth.

Julio Pinto made his first start for the Chukars and struggled, despite a mid-to-high-90s fastball. Pinto, previously with Burlington, gave up three runs (all earned) on five hits, a walk, five strikeouts and two wild pitches in 3.1 innings.

Fellow Chukars flamethrower Josh Staumont pitched three scoreless, hitless innings out of the bullpen, giving up two walks with four strikeouts.

Burt went 2 for 4 with two walks and has now reached base 49 games in a row. Newcomer Gabriel Noriega (shortstop) went 3 for 4, Jones went 2 for 5 with a walk and left fielder Roman Collins went 1 for 4 with two walks.

Tonight’s series finale is enormous for the Chukars (34-35). If they win, they’ll not only take a one-game division lead, they’ll improve their season record against Ogden (40-29) to 9-7. The first playoff tiebreaker is head-to-head record.

Derek Gordon is scheduled to start for I.F. in tonight’s game, which starts at 7:15.

Roster notes

Several key I.F. position players were missing from Tuesday’s game. Outfielder Amalani Fukofuka was on the bench getting rest, and Gemoll wasn’t sure if he’d play tonight either. Shortstop Jeckson Flores (hamstring) and catcher Kyle Pollock (hand) are both day-to-day. Gemoll also said catcher Pedro Gonzalez, currently on the disabled list, will not return.

Shortstop Marten Gasparini could return as early as this weekend, Chukars director of broadcasting Alex Cohen said. Gasparini is currently in Japan representing Team Italy in the World Baseball Softball Confederation U-18 Baseball World Cup

Umpires frustrate Chukars in 9-8 loss to Grand Junction

Umpire calls carry extra weight right now for the Idaho Falls Chukars, who are battling the Ogden Raptors for the Pioneer League South Division title.

So the frustration ramps up when the umpires, from the Chukars’ perspective, make mistakes.

That frustration was evident Monday night against the Grand Junction Rockies, who benefited from several calls that drew ire from I.F.’s players, coaches and fans. It didn’t help that the Chukars lost the game 9-8 and fell one game behind Ogden in the South Division second-half standings. There are eight games left in the regular season.

Burt
Burt

“We had a couple of bad calls we should’ve gotten,” Chukars second baseman D.J. Burt said. “But that’s baseball.”

The Rockies scored twice off Carter Hope in the top of the first inning, but the Chukars took a 3-2 lead in the bottom of the first. Both teams went on to score every half inning until the bottom of the fifth, when the game was tied 7-7.

The Rockies took the lead back in the top of the seventh on a two-out, two-run single by catcher Chris Rabago off left-hander Ian Thompkins.

The Chukars loaded the bases in the eighth with two outs but failed to score. In the ninth, they loaded the bases with no outs and scored a run, but they needed at least one more.

Most of the Chukars’ frustration with umpires Isias Barba (home plate) and Luis Hernandez (field) stemmed from balls and strikes.

In the sixth, Barba called Burt out on a high strike. Burt voiced his displeasure with Barba’s call as he walked back to the dugout.

Melaleuca Field got heated in the bottom of the ninth, too, when Hernandez ruled that third baseman Logan Nottebrok went around while trying to check his swing. Fans were incensed, and the umpires told several Chukars in the dugout to settle down. Nottebrok struck out looking on the next pitch, and that call wasn’t popular, either.

“They’re young, too,” Chukars’ manager Justin Gemoll said of the umpires. “Hopefully they learn from it. Things happened to both sides; it wasn’t like it was only our team. It’s just part of the game.”

Burt made noise in another way when he hit a triple in the first inning. That hit extended his on-base streak to 48 games, which is a 2015 high for affiliated baseball, according to the Chukars. Burt (1 for 3, two walks) passed Matt Holiday of the St. Louis Cardinals.

“It feels good,” Burt said. “At the plate, I didn’t want to think about it too much. I just wanted to stick to my game plan, be patient and be a spark to this team.”

First baseman Josh Banuelos went 2 for 4 with a walk, left fielder Roman Collins went 2 for 5 and center fielder Amalani Fukofuka went 1 for 3 with two walks.

The Chukars (33-35, 20-10 second half) host the Raptors (40-28, 21-9) for a two-game series starting at 7:15 tonight. The teams have a 7-7 record against each other this season. If they have equal second-half records at the end of the season, head-to-head record would be the first playoff tiebreaker, so both teams crave a sweep in their final series.

Valenzuela traded for Gomes

The Kansas City Royals bolstered their lineup Monday night by acquiring outfielder Jonny Gomes from the Atlanta Braves, first reported by Fox Sports. In return for Gomes, the Braves received shortstop Luis Valenzuela, who started the season with the Chukars.

Valenzuela, 21, hit .486/.472/.600 (batting average/on-base percentage/slugging percentage) in 37 plate appearances for I.F. this season. On July 2, he was promoted to Single-A Lexington, where he hit .339/.368/.483 in 184 plate appearances.

Valenzuela will be assigned to the Single-A Rome Braves, Atlanta announced.

Sunday’s game

Behind a record sixth inning, the Chukars pounded the Rockies 16-7 on Sunday at Meleleuca Field.

The Chukars trailed 6-3 going into the sixth. After the inning, they led 12-6. The nine runs are the most I.F. has scored in an inning this season.

Designated hitter Amalani Fukofuka had one of his best games of the season, going 5 for 6 and finishing a home run shy of the cycle. The five hits are the most by a Chukars’ batter in a single game this season.

Catcher Nick Dini went 3 for 4 with a double, while Banuelos (2 for 4, double, two walks), right fielder Brawlun Gomez (2 for 4, double, walk), center fielder Cody Jones (2 for 6) and shortstop Gabriel Noriega (2 for 5) each had two hits.

Noriega is on a rehab assignment. He transferred from Triple-A Omaha to I.F. before Sunday’s game.

Chukars Notebook: Second half resurgance

By VICTOR FLORES
vflores@postregister.com

History is brewing at Melaleuca Field.

Second baseman D.J. Burt chases down a ball during the Idaho Falls Chukars’ 9-8 loss to Ogden on June 31 at Melaleuca Field. (Monte LaOrange / mlaorange@postregister.com)
Second baseman D.J. Burt chases down a ball during the Idaho Falls Chukars’ 9-8 loss to Ogden on June 31 at Melaleuca Field. (Monte LaOrange / mlaorange@postregister.com)

The Idaho Falls Chukars enter today’s game against Grand Junction with a 19-9 second half record, tops in the Pioneer League. That record is even more impressive when compared to the Chukars’ first half, when they finished dead last at 13-25.

I.F. is currently tied with Ogden in the Pioneer League South Division for the second half. Even if the Chukars miss the playoffs, they might finish with the winningest half since they became a Kansas City Royals affiliate.

The Chukars joined the Royals’ organization in 2004. Since then, their best half was in 2009, when they went 23-14 to end the season. The Chukars would need to go at least 5-5 to surpass the 2009 mark.

It should be noted that the halfway point of a season is an arbitrary endpoint. In other words, the dividing line between the first 38 games and the last 38 games is essentially meaningless.

The beginning of a season is the most significant starting point for a baseball team, and I.F. has gone 32-34 since then. You can create any narrative you want by closing your eyes and randomly placing your finger on a calendar.

The Pioneer League, of course, doesn’t work like the MLB, which rewards season-long records. Teams only need one good half to be in the Pioneer League playoff hunt, as the Chukars have shown. But that doesn’t mean the Chukars went into a telephone booth on July 28 and came out a superteam.

That all said, several I.F. players and coaches said they hit a mental reset button after the first half ended. They knew July 28 marked a new season, and that mental rewiring counts for something.

Plus, several players have gone from bad to elite, and their improvement started almost squarely on July 28. Second baseman D.J. Burt and shortstop Marten Gasparini are at the top of that list.

After July 28, Burt was hitting .198/.324/.215 (batting average/on-base percentage/slugging percentage). Through Friday, he was hitting .282/.389/.364, and his defense looks improved.

Gasparini’s slash line dropped to .205/.275/.346 through July 27. Now, it’s .262/.339/.419, although Gasparini might be done for the season because he is representing Team Italy in the 2015 World Baseball Softball Confederation U-18 Baseball World Cup.

“A lot of the position players, especially, are very young, so whenever you go up a level, not everybody’s going to have immediate success,” Chukars reliever Tripp Davis told Chukars director of broadcasting Alex Cohen on Aug. 11. “They’ve put in their time in the first half, and now everything’s clicking.”

The pitching is clicking, as well. I.F.’s first half team ERA was 5.33. It’s down to 4.93 on the season, thanks to pitchers like Davis (2.84 second-half ERA) Derek Gordon (3.12) and Josh Staumont (3.48, 34-to-9 strikeout-to-walk ratio).

I.F. has also been good/lucky in close games during the second game. The Chukars have won five extra-inning games (7-1 on the season), eight by one run and are 13-4 in games decided by two runs or fewer.

The Chukars will enjoy this success even if they miss the playoffs and fizzle over these last 10 games. Their players have developed in the second half, and that is ultimately all that matters in rookie ball.

PICOLLO VISIT’S I.F.

J.J. Picollo — the Royals’ vice president/assistant general manager for player personnel — has watched the Chukars since Thursday in Ogden, and he’ll be in Idaho Falls through today. He makes trips to see Kansas City’s three Rookie-level teams once a year.

Picollo said he’s here for two main reasons.

“One, getting to learn our new players, guys who were drafted this year. I saw a lot of them in mini-camp but didn’t see them in games,” said Picollo, who has held his current position since 2008. “The second thing is to look at the guys we’ve had in the system, see how they’re progressing, see where they’re at.”

INTERN MIGRATION

Chukars general manager Kevin Greene has been employing college interns since he became GM in 1993, and he believes the opportunties benefit him and the interns.

But every summer, he deals with the same issue: interns going back to school.

This summer, the Chukars had six administrative interns (some receive college credit, but all of them receive stipends, Greene said). Four have begun classes — Jake Guza (College of Idaho), Matthew Donovan, Aaron Palmberg (both BYU) and Desiree Cannon (Lewis and Clark). I.F. also lost several college-age concessions workers.

Greene and the Melaleuca Field staff aren’t too worried about being understaffed, though. After all, they’ve survived the intern migration for 22 years.

ROSTER MOVE

Last Sunday, right-handed pitcher Bryan Brickhouse made a three-inning rehab start for the Chukars against Grand Junction (he allowed two earned runs). The next day, Brickhouse was added to I.F.’s active roster.

This is Brickhouse’s third stint with the Chukars. He made one start for I.F. in 2012 and nine appearances (eight starts) in 2014.

WHO’S HOT?

2B D.J. Burt

Burt’s hot second half gets two mentions in this space. Since July 28, Burt his hitting .398 with nine extra-base hits, seven stolen bases and 15 walks. He’s also reached base (via a hit, walk or hit-by-pitch) in 46 straight games.

WHO’S NOT?

OF Brawlun Gomez

Gomez leads the Chukars with nine home runs, but he’s been in a major slump. In his last 11 games, Gomez is hitting 5 for 41 (.122) with two walks and 22 strikeouts. He has 79 strikeouts on the season, tied for first in the Pioneer League with Gasparini.

Chukars tied for Pioneer League South Division lead after 7-6 loss to Grand Junction

By VICTOR FLORES
vflores@postregister.com

Ten games remain, and the Idaho Falls Chukars are tied for first in the Pioneer League South Division.

The Chukars fell 7-6 to Grand Junction Saturday night at Melaleuca Field. Shortly after the game ended, with lightning streaking across the sky and a fireworks show set to start, the Ogden Raptors beat Orem in 12 innings. Both I.F. and Ogden are 19-9 in the second half.

“All these games are important,” Chukars manager Justin Gemoll said. “We just have to take care of our business.”

Collins
Collins

The Chukars scored two runs on two-out single from designated hitter Roman Collins in the bottom of the first, but Grand Junction tied it up in the top of the third. The 2-2 score lasted until the fifth, when the Rockies got their third run off I.F. starter Daniel Concepcion.

In the bottom of the fifth, Chukars center fielder Cody Jones hit a leadoff single. Second baseman D.J. Burt came up next and hit a medium depth fly ball to right fielder Sam Hilliard. Third base coach Gemoll sent Jones on the tag-up, but he was out by several feet to end the inning.

“I don’t regret it,” Gemoll said. “It’s a left-handed outfielder running toward center field, so his body’s taking him away from the play. He just did a great job of being under it, keeping body control, arm strength, accuracy, all of that.”

An inning later, the Chukars regained the lead. Left fielder Amalani Fukofuka hit a leadoff triple and scored a few pitches later on a failed pickoff attempt by Rockies catcher Campbell Wear. Collins delivered again with an RBI triple two batters later, and he scored on a Brawlun Gomez single for a 5-3 Chukars lead.

The game looked in hand with Josh Staumont on the hill, but the right-hander uncharacteristically struggled in the seventh. The rookie allowed four runs (all earned) on three walks, a wild pitch and a double in the inning.

Before Saturday, Staumont had a 1.62 ERA with six walks and 32 strikeouts in 16.2 second-half innings.

“I didn’t see anything out of the ordinary, I just think he was working up a little bit more than usual,” Chukars pitching coach Jeff Suppan said. “Sometimes you don’t have it every night.”

I.F. got a ninth inning run but it couldn’t muster more.

The Chukars were shorthanded going into the game, and it hurt them. Prior to the top of the seventh, shortstop Jeckson Flores exited the game with a hamstring injury. Ryan Dale replaced him but went to third base, forcing third baseman Logan Nottebrok to second and Burt to shortstop.

Flores, who is day-to-day, is the only true shortstop on the team. Regular shortstop Marten Gasparini is currently in Japan representing Team Italy in the 2015 World Baseball Softball Confederation U-18 Baseball World Cup.

Gemoll said multiple Chukars can play infield, and Chukars director of broadcasting Alex Cohen said after Saturday’s game that I.F. will make several moves before today’s game.

The Chukars (32-34) host Grand Junction (27-39, 8-20 second half) today at 4 p.m. Todd Eaton will start on the mound for I.F. in the third game of the four-game series.

Chukars take opener versus Rockies 6-4

Idaho Falls Chukars left fielder Roman Collins, No. 25, slides into second base safe on an infield out in the second inning as Grand Junction second baseman #2, Jonathon Pinon is late with the tag in a Saturday night game from Suplizio Filed in Grand Junction,CO. (Christopher Tomlinson / Grand Junction Daily Sentinel)
Idaho Falls Chukars left fielder Roman Collins, No. 25, slides into second base safe on an infield out in the second inning as Grand Junction second baseman #2, Jonathon Pinon is late with the tag in a Saturday night game from Suplizio Filed in Grand Junction,CO. (Christopher Tomlinson / Grand Junction Daily Sentinel)

The second half continues to get better for the Idaho Falls Chukars.

Idaho Falls got another strong start from Derek Gordon, two three-run innings and balance from the lineup in a 6-4 win over the Grand Junction Rockies at Sam Suplizio Field in Grand Junction, Colo., on Saturday night.

The Chukars improved to 29-30 overall and 16-5 in the second half. They lead the Pioneer League South Division second-half standings by three games over the Ogden Raptors and by five over the first-half champion Orem Owlz.

Outside of allowing two solo home runs to Jonathan Piron, Gordon was nearly untouchable. He allowed the solo shots in the second and fourth innings, but just two other hits and a walk while striking out four in 5.2 innings.

Cruz Guevara got the final out of the sixth, and hard-throwing Josh Staumont allowed two runs over the final three innings but closed it out.

The Chukars wiped out a 1-0 deficit in the third when Jeckson Flores walked and scored on DJ Burt’s one-out double to center. Amalani Fukofuka followed with a triple to right, giving I.F. a 2-1 lead. Fukofuka followed Burt home when the cutoff throw from shortstop Brendan Rogers sailed wide of third to make it 3-1.

Idaho Falls added three more runs in the sixth. Roman Collins led off with a single and Nick Dini followed with a single. After Brawlun Gomez and Ryan Dale Struck out, Flores reached on an error that scored Collins and Dini. Cody Jones then singled in Flores from third.

Jones, Burt, Fukofuka and Collins had three hits each for the Chukars, who outhit the Rockies 11-6.

The Chukars and Rockies (25-34 overall, 5-16 second half) play the second game of their four-game series at 4:05 p.m. today.

Red-hot Chukars pull out another win, 5-4 over Billings

By JEFF PINKHAM
jpinkham@postregister.com

It was a game the Idaho Falls Chukars had no business winning. It was a game they would have no doubt lost in the first half of the Pioneer League season.

But this is the second half, and this is a very different Idaho Falls Chukars team.

The Chukars rallied from two late-inning deficits to force extra innings, escaped a mini-jam in the top of the 10th and then beat the Billings Mustangs 5-4 on Brawlun Gomez’s bases-loaded single in the bottom of the 10th in front of 3,195 fans Thursday at Melaleuca Field.

“We just try to fight until the end,” said Idaho Falls right fielder Amalani Fukofuka, who had an RBI single in the eighth and scored the winning run in the 10th. “We always try to play with confidence no matter what’s going on.”

That confidence at the plate was put to the test Thursday.

The Chukars were scuffling against Billings starter Jacob Constante, who allowed just two singles and two walks over the first five innings while striking out six. He was replaced by Austin Orwilier, who was even better. The 6-foot-2 left-hander, a 14th-round draft pick from Rice University this year, allowed a single to Roman Collins in the seventh but nothing else, striking out four of the seven hitters he faced.

Idaho Falls starter Carter Hope was just as good over the first six innings, allowing three hits and no runs while striking out five. But Hope ran out of gas in the seventh, allowing a two-out triple to Jonathan Martijn and a two-run homer to Dalton Carter. The Mustangs pushed across another run when Hector Vargas reached on a Gasparini error, moved to second on a single, to third on a wild pitch and scored on a single by Brantley Bell.

That’s when the Chukars found a little of their second-half magic.

Facing a 3-0 deficit and nothing to build on, Cody Jones singled with one out in the bottom of the seventh. The Chukars then caught a break when Jeckson Flores hit a perfect double-play ball to short. But the ball went through Vargas’ legs to extend the inning. Fukofuka made them pay with an RBI double to right, putting runners on second and third. Josh Banuelos followed with an RBI single to left, and Fukofuka followed Flores home when left fielder Kevin Garcia bobbled the ball.

Billings grabbed the lead back in the top of the ninth on a single from Zach Shields, a sac bunt and another error from Gasparini — his 35th of the season.

But Gasparini’s teammates bailed him out in the bottom of the ninth, getting a leadoff single from Kyle Pollock, a two-strike sac bunt from Ryan Dale and a game-tying single from Jones.

“We win as a team, we lose as a team,” Fukofuka said.

The bottom of the 10th started with a bunt single from Fukofuka, who moved to third on Banuelos’ groundout to third. Billings intentionally walked Collins and Gasparini to load the bases, and Gomez followed with the game-winning hit.

Alberto Rodriguez pitched the final two innings, allowing a bloop double in the 10th before working out of the jam.

Fukofuka finished 3 for 5 with two runs scored and an RBI. Collins went 2 for 3 with two walks and Jones was 2 for 5 with a run scored and an RBI.

The Chukars (28-30 overall, 15-5 second half) went 6-1 on their homestand against Helena and Billings and remained three games ahead of Ogden and four ahead of Orem in the South Division second-half standings. Idaho Falls is off tonight before opening a four-game series at last-place Grand Junction at 7:05 p.m. Saturday.

Another night, another rally for Chukars

Gasparini
Gasparini

By JEFF PINKHAM
jpinkham@postregister.com

The comebacks keep on coming for the Idaho Falls Chukars.

Idaho Falls blew an early 5-0 lead, but another triple from Marten Gasparini, a gutty start from Todd Eaton and an in-and-out-of trouble finish from Drew Milligan led to an 8-6 win over the Billings Mustangs in front of 2,920 fans Wednesday at Melaleuca Field.

It was a typical second-half game for the Chukars, who have won close game after close game over the past three weeks. Idaho Falls improved to 14-5 in the second half, with four wins in extra innings, two by walk-off and seven by one run. In 12 of 19 second-half games, I.F.’s games have been decided by two runs or fewer.

“We’ve seen this since extended spring training,” Idaho Falls manager Justin Gemoll said. “This group fights.”

Gemoll needed that fight from his team after the Chukars blew a 5-0 lead in the fifth inning. It didn’t take long for I.F. to show that fight. After Billings tied the game in the top of the fifth, Joshua Banuelos and Brawlun Gomez hit back-to-back two-out singles and Gasparini followed with his Pioneer League-leading 10th triple to make it 7-5. Gasparini, an 18-year-old from Italy, is one triple away from the league record of 11, held by three players.

Gasparini finished 2 for 2 with three RBIs and his league-leading 24th stolen base.

“The kid can run,” Gemoll said. “And we try to maximize that ability every chance we get.”

The night started well for the Chukars, who got an overpowering 1-2-3 inning from Eaton, and then put the first four men on base in the bottom of the first while taking a 4-0 lead. Josh Banuelos had the big hit, a two-run single to right that led to a third run when Amalani Fukofuka scored on a throwing error.

The Chukars pushed the lead to 5-0 with a single run in the third when Fukofuka led off with a triple and scored on Gasparini’s single to right.

The good feelings ended in the fourth when Billings scored three runs on three hits, all doubles by Shane Mardirosian, Mitch Piatnik and Reydel Medina. The final run scored on Tyler Stephenson’s groundout.

Eaton hurt himself in the fifth when he allowed a leadoff double to Ed Charlton and then tried to do too much on Hector Vargas’ sac bunt. Instead of taking the easy out, Eaton fielded the ball and tried to get Charlton at third. The ball sailed to the fence, allowing Charlton to score and Vargas to reach second. A double by Mitch Trees tied the second.

Despite the struggles, Eaton came out for the sixth and pitched a 1-2-3 inning.

“His stuff was good and we trusted him,” Gemoll said. “The only ball they hit hard was (Charlton’s) double in the sixth.”

Eaton (6.1 innings, five runs, four earned, one walk, four strikeouts) got one out in the seventh before leaving with two men on. Milligan struck out the final two batters of the seventh, worked a scoreless eighth and pitched out of a two-on, none-out jam in the ninth to seal the victory.

These are good times for the Chukars, who hold a three-game lead over Ogden and four-game lead over Orem.

“We want to develop a winning team and a winning culture for Kansas City,” Gemoll said. “Our main goal is to develop players, but if we can win along the way, it’s even better.”

Cody Jones (2 for 5, run, RBI) and Banuelos (2 for 5, 2 runs, 2 RBIs) also had solid nights for Idaho Falls (27-30 overall), which wraps up a seven-game homestand with a final game against Billings at 7:15 p.m. tonight. The Chukars are off Friday before hitting the road Saturday to begin a four-game set at Grand Junction.