Tag: Matt Portland

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.

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).

Bats come alive in Chukars’ 18-7 win

Castellano
Castellano

The Idaho Falls Chukars took out a month’s worth of frustration Monday night at Melaleuca Field.

The Chukars, winners of just eight games in August entering Monday, used an eight-run seventh inning and 21 hits overall to crush the Ogden Raptors 18-7 in front of 1,424 fans. The win, combined with Grand Junction’s 12-inning loss to Orem, left Idaho Falls three games back in the Pioneer League South Division second-half standings with 10 games left in the regular season.

Who needs defense?

Idaho Falls kicked the ball around early Monday, committing four errors and pushing their season total to a league-high 151. Those miscues, along with 15 Ogden hits, led to plenty of runs, but they weren’t enough to overcome the Chukars’ relentless offense.

Idaho Falls matched its season high for runs and fell two hits short of its season-best total of 23. All nine Chukars batters had a hit, with all but Manny Olloque and Ryan Dale getting at least two knocks.

Even with all that offense this was a close game entering the seventh. Idaho Falls briefly lost its lead in the top of the fourth, but scored four runs in the bottom of the fourth and single runs in the fifth and sixth to go ahead 9-7. Then the Chukars went crazy in the seventh, riding 10 hits and two errors to score eight runs and put the game away.

Idaho Falls reliever Jason Freeman was an overlooked hero Monday. The right-hander entered with two outs in the fifth and worked the next three innings, allowing four hits but no runs while striking out six.

Meibrys Viloria was one of many offensive heroes, going 3 for 5 with two doubles, two runs and four RBIs. Viloria needs just four doubles to tie the Pioneer League single-season record. Angelo Castellano and Nick Heath each had two runs and three RBIs.

Player of the game

Chukars second baseman Angelo Castellano

Castellano entered the game on a day off, and he looked plenty rested. The right-handed hitter went 4 for 4 with a triple, two runs and three RBIs to push his season average to .284.

Up next

The Chukars and Raptors play the third game of their four-game series today, with Matt Portland (4-3, 5.57 ERA) scheduled to start for Idaho Falls.

Sunday’s game

CHUKARS 2, RAPTORS 1: Idaho Falls got a dominating start from Andres Machado and a game-winning hit from Yeison Melo in the bottom of the eighth to earn a win over Ogden in front of 1,352 fans at Melaleuca Field.

Machado was overpowering from the start, striking out six of the first nine batters he faced, finishing with nine over six shutout innings. He allowed just a harmless single in the fourth.

Melo gave the Chukars a 1-0 lead in the fourth with a solo homer, his fifth of the season. But the Raptors tied the game in the top of the eighth with a solo homer from Brock Carpenter.

Idaho Falls quickly regained the lead, getting a leadoff walk from Manny Olloque and a fielder’s choice from Meibrys Viloria. Joe Dudek followed with a groundout, pushing Viloria to second. Melo then singled to deep short and Viloria raced home with the go-ahead run.

Melo finished 3 for 4. Richard Lovelady got the final three outs to earn his third save.

Dudek, pitching come through in the Chukars’ 3-2 win over Orem

Viloria
Viloria

The Idaho Falls Chukars headed into Wednesday with a 1-11 record in one-run games on the road. That mark improved Wednesday night at Orem.

The Chukars prevailed 3-2 over the Owlz thanks to strong pitching and some two-out thunder from their lineup. Ogden’s extra-inning win over Grand Junction put I.F. 4.5 games out of first place in the Pioneer League South division second-half standings.

The Dudek abides

The Chukars got on the board in the top of the first inning after the first two batters were retired. Manny Olloque delivered a two-out single, and Meibrys Viloria drove him home with a double.

The sixth inning began equally mundane, with Nick Heath and Olloque providing two quick outs. Then Viloria stepped up and singled in front of Joe Dudek. On a 1-1 count, the first baseman drove a Greg Belton pitch over the wall in left-center field.

Dudek’s home run proved to be the difference, giving I.F. a 3-1 lead.

Portland stays sharp

Matt Portland is still issuing walks, but he’s managed to suppress the hits and runs over his last three starts, including Wednesday’s.

The left-hander went six innings against the Owlz. He allowed two runs (one earned) on four hits and two walks, and he struck out five.

Portland has allowed one earned run in each of his last three outings, which all lasted five or more innings. The opposing lineups in those three games averaged 3.7 hits and three walks against him. Portland also struck out five batters per game in that span.

Player of the game

Chukars catcher Meibrys Viloria

Dudek wouldn’t have hit the big fly if Viloria didn’t single in front of him. Plus, Viloria doubled in the first run. Overall, the catcher went 3 for 4, upping his batting average to a league-best .398.

Edwards named player of the week

Chukars infielder David Edwards was named the Pioneer League player of the week for his performance from Aug. 15 to Aug. 21.

Edwards went 9 for 18 with two doubles, two home runs (both on Sunday) and three stolen bases over the course of five games. He now leads the team with eight homers on the season.

Edwards joined Manny Olloque and Yeison Melo as Chukars with 2016 player of week honors. Andres Machado also earned a pitcher of the week honor, and Meibrys Viloria was July’s player of the month.

Up next

The Chukars (31-30 overall, 9-14 second half) and Owlz (32-29, 10-13) conclude their two game-series on Thursday at 7 p.m. Lefty Reinaldo Cepin will start for I.F.

Chukars go quietly in series finale at Grand Junction

Willis
Willis

Perhaps the Idaho Falls Chukars’ toughest second-half loss occurred Monday, when an eighth inning home run lifted the Grand Junction Rockies to a 5-4 win.

Tuesday’s loss looked more garden variety, but the Chukars squandered good chances to take the game, split the series and remain within striking distance of first place.

The Rockies earned a 5-1 win Tuesday at Sam Suplizio Field. The Chukars lost the final three games of the four-game series, and they now sit 5.5 games behind Grand Junction in the Pioneer League South Division second-half standings.

Pivotal seventh

I.F.’s offense was quiet for most of Tuesday night, but it perked up in the top of seventh inning, down 3-1.

With one out, Nick Heath walked, Jordan Ebert reached on an error and MJ Sanchez was hit by a pitch. That set the table for leadoff hitter Luke Willis, who had gone 2 for 3 heading into the at-bat. He struck out looking. Manny Olloque came up next and flew out on the first pitch.

The Chukars finished 1 for 8 with runners in scoring position.

Drew Milligan came out for his second inning of work in the bottom of the seventh, and he notched a strikeout and a groundout to start the frame. The next four batters went walk, single, walk, single. Two runs scored, and the Rockies led 5-1.

Opportunity dropped

The Chukars couldn’t have planned a better way to open their four-game series at Grand Junction. They won 13-3 and climbed to 2.5 games behind the Rockies (3.0 behind then-first place Ogden).

A series split would have put I.F. 3.5 games behind the Rockies and two behind the Raptors (Orem won the first-half title, so it cannot win the second half title). Winning three out of four or sweeping the series would have been gravy for the Chukars.

Instead, I.F. lost the final three games in eclectic fashion. Sunday’s loss stemmed from a poor start by Igol Feliz. Monday’s was a back-and-forth back-breaker. Tuesday’s fell at the feet of the lineup.

The Chukars have 16 games left to erase a 5.5-game deficit and jump two teams in the South standings.

Player of the game

Rockies starting pitcher Ty Culbreth

The left-hander pounded the strike zone throughout his five innings of work. That cost him in some cases (seven hits, including three doubles), but he escaped his few pickles. Culbreth allowed one earned run, walked none and struck out five on 70 pitches (52 strikes).

Up next

The Chukars (30-30 overall, 8-14 second half) travel to Orem (32-28, 10-12) Wednesday for a two-game series to finish the road trip. I.F. lefty Matt Portland (6.08 ERA) faces righty Travis Herrin (6.41) at 7:05 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.

https://twitter.com/VictorFlores_IF/status/766469314966872064

Chukars’ lineup, bullpen awaken in a 7-5 win over the Mustangs

Idaho Falls Chukars pitcher Cole Way (right) celebrates his save with catcher MJ Sanchez Wednesday night against the Billings Mustangs at Melaleuca Field. (Photo courtesy of Steve Thayer)
Idaho Falls Chukars pitcher Cole Way (right) celebrates his save with catcher MJ Sanchez Wednesday night against the Billings Mustangs at Melaleuca Field. (Photo courtesy of Steve Thayer)

Not once did Cole Way shake off MJ Sanchez in the top of the ninth inning of Wednesday’s game. Ten minutes after the inning began, Way and Sanchez embraced.

The pitcher and catcher celebrated a rarity: an Idaho Falls Chukars win over the Billings Mustangs at Melaleuca Field. The 7-5 victory was the Chukars’ second of the six-game homestand, and their first over Billings this season. And it wasn’t close to over until Way’s final pitch of the ninth hit Sanchez’s glove.

Way buckles down

Third baseman David Edwards committed a fielding error with one out in the top of the ninth, setting up an easy narrative: an error sinks the Chukars once again.

Errors have killed I.F. all season, especially in the second half, and the Chukars looked doomed for a similar fate Wednesday. The Mustangs put the tying runs on second and third with one out in the ninth.

The situation didn’t phase Way. He struck out Colby Wright, who had gone 2 for 3 with a double heading into that at-bat. Cassidy Brown was up next. On a 2-2 count, Sanchez called for a changeup. Way didn’t hesitate, and he got Brown to chase to end the game.

“Cole’s best pitch is probably his changeup,” Sanchez said. “I had a lot of confidence in him and what he had, and I knew he was going to trust me. We were in sync.”

Right after the strikeout, Way screamed and pointed at Sanchez, praising his catcher for a good gameplan.

“He sat there and watched the hitters for eight innings, he read all their swings and he had a great sequence on every at-bat,” Way said. “He called a perfect pitch at the perfect time.”

Five in the sixth 

Rudy Martin led off the bottom of the first with a double. The Chukars were held hitless for the next four innings.

The first five innings summed up I.F.’s second half. The lineup looked listless. The bullpen got knocked around, this time with Christian Flecha filling the role with two earned runs in the fifth.

The lineup and the bullpen flipped a switch after that, starting with an offensive eruption in bottom of the sixth. The lineup batted around thanks to five hits and two walks.

Martin sparked the rally with a lead-off walk. The center fielder doesn’t like to use the word “slump”, but that’s what he was mired in for the bulk of August. From July 26 through Tuesday’s game, Martin hit 6 for 47 (.128) with two walks.

“We’ve been working in the cages, and today, it was a lot better,” Martin said. “I’m feeling a lot more comfortable at the plate. Hopefully tomorrow I can come and do the same thing.”

Sanchez was another struggling Chukar heading into Wednesday. He had been 0 for 10 without a walk in the month of August. On Wednesday, Sanchez extended the sixth inning rally with a single, and he walked in the eighth.

Cepin extends streak

The Chukars have struggled in almost every area during the second half. One of the few bright spots has been starting pitching, and that silver lining continued to glimmer Wednesday.

Left-hander Reinaldo Cepin allowed two earned runs on five hits and a walk in four innings. He also struck out three.

Before Wednesday, no I.F. starter had allowed more than one earned run on the homestand, yet I.F. went 1-4 in those games.

Player of the game 

Mustangs left fielder Taylor Trammell

Trammell went 2 for 3 with a triple, a double, two walks and three runs scored.

Up next

The Chukars (28-27 overall, 6-11 second half) and Mustangs (34-20, 11-5) wrap up the four-game series Thursday at Melaleuca Field. I.F.’s Matt Portland (6.59 ERA) takes on fellow lefty Max Wotell (5.03).

Benches clear in the Chukars’ 7-2 loss to Great Falls

Idaho Falls Chukars starting pitcher Matt Portland throws a pitch during the first inning against the Great Falls Voyagers on Friday at Melaleuca Field. (Bill Schaefer for the Post Register)
Idaho Falls Chukars starting pitcher Matt Portland throws a pitch during the first inning against the Great Falls Voyagers on Friday at Melaleuca Field. (Bill Schaefer for the Post Register)

A Ricky Aracena error changed the course of Friday’s game.

The Idaho Falls Chukars shortstop made an errant throw in the top of the seventh inning that scored three runs, giving Great Falls a lead for good. One play later, the benches cleared for a near-brawl.

Heads cooled down and the Voyagers heated up after that. They defeated the Chukars 7-2 at Melaleuca Field, extending I.F.’s losing streak to a season-high four games.

Dejection and ejections

With two outs and the bases loaded in the top of the seventh, Great Falls’ Casey Schroeder grounded a Cole Way pitch to the left side. Aracena backhanded the ball and fired to second, but it sailed to the right of second baseman Jordan Ebert. The bases cleared and Schroeder reached second on Aracena’s 25th error, which leads the Pioneer League. Great Falls took a 4-2 lead.

The next batter, J.J. Franco, lined a single into left field. Luke Willis fired a strike home that that beat Schroeder by several feet. Catcher Meibrys Viloria stood just off the plate when he received the throw. Instead of sliding, Schroeder put his hands out and nearly collided with Viloria.

“He was playing hard,” Chukars manager Justin Gemoll said with a smile, gesturing air quotation marks.

Viloria stared Schroeder down, and Way hurled angry words toward the Great Falls catcher. Seconds later, both teams’ benches and bullpens piled onto the field.

The umpires and coaches quickly subdued both sides. The most heat came from the play at home that sparked the donnybrook. At one point, Viloria cocked his right arm back as if he was going to throw the baseball at a Voyager, but bench coach Ramon Castro held him back. The only contact came from coaches and players holding their guys back.

Viloria and Way were immediately ejected. The umpires, who declined to comment, took a little longer to toss Schroeder. According to Gemoll, the umpires said that Viloria and Way instigated the scuffle when they screamed at Schroeder.

“If instigating is screaming, then they could’ve thrown everybody out,” Gemoll said. “Our guys had a right to be upset, to protect their player.”

Portland dominates, then fizzles

Matt Portland pitched what he said was his best start of the season. The left-hander labored through the sixth and seventh innings, but through five, he was nearly unhittable.

Portland allowed one hit and one walk through five scoreless innings, and he faced 15 batters (the minimum) on 57 pitches.

“I wanted to go back to basics and simplify things,” Portland said. “Trust my mechanics, trust my stuff.”

But as the pitch count went up, the outs became tougher to record.

Portland needed 30 pitches to get the next four outs. He walked three in his final 1.1 inning and was replaced by Cole Way.

“I just started thinking about too much stuff,” Portland said.

Portland ended up allowing three runs, but Aracena’s error left him on the hook for one earned run. He allowed two hits and struck out four in his 6.1 innings. He also allowed one earned run in 6.1 innings on July 22 at Helena (six hits, three walks, six strikeouts).

Player of the game

Voyagers right fielder Aaron Schnurbusch

Schnurbusch went 1 for 4, and that one hit all but sealed Great Falls’ win. The left-hander launched an opposite field two-run home run in the top of the eighth inning to give the Voyagers a 6-2 lead. He also walked and scored two runs in the game.

Up next

The Chukars (26-24 overall, 4-8 second half) and Voyagers (28-21, 7-4) return to Melaleuca Field on Saturday at 7:15 p.m. I.F.’s Arnaldo Hernandez (6.50 ERA) takes on fellow righty Chris Comito.

Run-averse Chukars get swept out of Billings

Viloria
Viloria

The Idaho Falls Chukars will be happy to see Melaleuca Field again.

The team that has gone 18-5 at home continued to struggle on the road Wednesday night. The Chukars fell 6-1 to the Billings Mustangs at Dehler Park to end their seven-game road trip. I.F. was swept by the Mustangs, went 1-6 on the trip and fell to 8-18 on the road this season.

Hit and (no) run

The Chukars notched three hits in each of their first two games at Billings. They more than doubled that number Wednesday, tallying eight base knocks. They added three walks, and Angelo Castellano reached on an error.

While I.F. diverged from the low-hit streak, hits with runners on base remained elusive.

The Chukars left 11 runners on base Wednesday, and they went 0 for 13 with runners in scoring position. They have not recorded a hit in their last 19 at-bats with RISP, and they finished the series 1 for 25 in those situations.

Viloria comes down to Earth

Not even a brief slump can make Meibrys Viloria look bad.

The Chukars catcher went 0 for 4 on Wednesday, extending his hitless streak to seven at-bats. His 0-for-3 performance Monday ended a 20-game hitting streak.

Yet even after this two-game cold streak, Viloria leads the Pioneer League with a .420 batting average. He owns the league’s top slugging percentage and OPS, as well.

Wednesday’s 0-for-4 performance marked the first time in 36 games that Viloria has gone hitless in consecutive contests. In fact, Viloria has recorded at least one hit in all but five games this season. That includes an 0-for-1 showing in a pinch-hit situation June 22 against Orem.

Player of the game

Mustangs shortstop Gabriel Ovalle

Ovalle went 3 for 4 (three singles) with two RBIs on Wednesday. He also played his 13th error-less game this season at arguably the toughest position in baseball.

Bayliss earns promotion

Right-handed pitcher Brian Bayliss was promoted from I.F. to Single-A Lexington on Wednesday, ending his two-season tenure with the Chukars.

The Legends will be Bayliss’s first professional team other than the Chukars. He pitched 25.1 innings for I.F. last year and 17 this summer.

Bayliss rebounded from a 6.39 ERA in 2015 with a 3.18 ERA this season. His 2016 first half output was even better than the 3.18 indicates, and it netted him a Pioneer League all-star selection (he replaced an injured Alex Luna in the Pioneer League-Northwest League All-Star game).

Up next

The Chukars (26-23 overall, 4-7 second half) get Thursday off and host Great Falls (27-20, 6-3) for a three-game set starting Thursday. Lefty Matt Portland (7.50 ERA) will start on the hill for I.F.

Voyagers hand Chukars first shutout loss

Portland
Portland

The vaunted Idaho Falls offense was no match for Great Falls starting pitcher Alec Hansen on Friday night in a 12-0 loss at Centene Stadium at Legion Park in Great Falls, Mont.

The Chukars, who entered Friday leading the Pioneer League in runs, hits, doubles and batting average, were limited to one walk in the first and a single in the sixth. That was it. Hansen struck out 11 in six dominating innings.

Tough night

Idaho Falls had lost 18 games entering Friday, but hadn’t experienced a defeat like this all season. It was the Chukars’ first shutout loss (they had been held to one run just twice) and the largest margin of defeat (the previous was a 16-5 loss to Orem on July 8).

While Idaho Falls bats were silent, Great Falls led 4-0 after three innings and put the game away with three runs in the fifth. The Voyagers finished with 15 hits on three Idaho Falls pitchers, including home runs by Joel Booker and Aaron Schnurbusch.

Matt Portland, the losing pitcher in the 16-5 defeat, also took the loss Friday. The lefty allowed five earned runs on six hits with four walks and five strikeouts in 4.1 innings.

Angelo Castellano drew a walk while Luke Willis had the lone hit for the Chukars.

Player of the game

Great Falls starter Alec Hansen

The 6-foot-7, 235-pounder has been overpowering all season, splitting time between the Arizona League (seven innings) and Great Falls. In 20.2 innings entering the night, Hansen had allowed just eight hits and six walks while striking out 32. The second-round pick out of the University of Oklahoma was even better Friday, allowing just one hit and one walk while striking out 11.

Viloria honored

Idaho Falls All-Star catcher Meibrys Viloria was named the Pioneer League Player of the Month for July, the league announced Friday.

Viloria hit .420 in July with eight doubles, two triples and five homers while driving in 28 runs and scoring 24. He leads the league with a .445 average (57 of 128) in 32 games.

Up next

Idaho Falls (25-19, 3-3 second half) and Great Falls (24-19, 3-2) play the third game of a four-game series at 7 p.m. Saturday. Arnaldo Hernandez (4-1, 6.41 ERA) is scheduled to start for the Chukars while Bernardo Flores (2-0, 4.50 ERA) will start for the Voyagers.