Tag: Meibrys Viloria

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.

Meibrys Viloria named Pioneer League MVP

Viloria
Viloria

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

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

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

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

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

Viloria, Olloque honored

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

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

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

Tuesday’s game

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Blown chances

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

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

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

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

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

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

Player of the game

Idaho Falls right fielder Yeison Melo

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

Up next

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

Sunday’s game

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

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

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

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

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

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.

Chukars move closer in the playoff race with an 8-6 win over Orem

Castellano
Castellano

The Idaho Falls Chukars rallied late and then had to hold on to beat Orem 8-6 on Friday night at Melaleuca Field, moving them a game closer to Grand Junction in the Pioneer League South Division second-half standings.

Pressure’s on

The Chukars were sitting 5.5 games behind Grand Junction in the second-half standings when Friday night began. But I.F.’s win, combined with Grand Junction’s loss to Ogden, cut the margin to 4.5.

But it wasn’t easy.

Idaho Falls led 2-1 after two innings and 4-1 after four before the Owlz tied the game with two runs in the fifth and one in the sixth. But the Chukars pulled ahead with a three-run seventh. Meibrys Viloria got things starter with a walk, and after Joe Dudek flied out, Yeison Melo reached on an infield error. Angelo Castellano followed with a two-run triple to right field. Ryan Dale singled two batters later to score Castellano.

Orem scored single runs in the eighth and ninth, but Richard Lovelady got the final four outs to secure the win.

Dudek went 2 for 3 with two doubles, a run and an RBI while Nick Heath was 2 for 5 with a run scored. Starter Arnaldo Hernandez pitched well, allowing three runs on six hits with three walks and three strikeouts in five innings.

Player of the game

Idaho Falls shortstop Angelo Castellano

Castellano had a big game from the sixth spot in the order, going 2 for 4 with a triple, two runs and two RBIs. He pushed his season average to .275 and increased his RBI total to 39.

Up next

The Chukars and Owlz play the final game of their quick two-game set at 7:15 tonight. Igol Feliz (2-2, 5.93 ERA) is scheduled to start for Idaho Falls.

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.

Rockies’ rally makes Chukars’ playoff chase tougher

Viloria
Viloria

One swing of the bat in the bottom of the eighth inning led to a two-game swing in the Pioneer League South Division standings for the Idaho Falls Chukars on Monday night.

Moments after the Chukars rallied to take the lead with a four-run seventh inning, Colton Welker reached on a third strike passed ball and Hunter Melton followed with a two-run homer to right-center to lift the Grand Junction Rockies to a 5-4 win at Sam Suplizio Field.

The loss dropped the Chukars 4.5 games behind the Rockies in the South Division second-half standings.

Get him outta here

Idaho Falls bats were invisible over the first six innings against Grand Junction starter Bryan Baker. The 6-foot-6, 220-pound right-hander, whose ERA is hovering near 6, limited the Chukars to three hits and two walks while striking out six in six scoreless innings.

But the Chukars pounced when Baker hit the showers, scoring four runs on four hits and a walk against relievers Ryan Luna and Heath Holder in the seventh. Alex Luna did his job in the sixth and seventh, allowing just one hit while striking out three to give I.F. the lead entering the bottom of the eighth.

Idaho Falls reliever Cole Way got Vince Fernandez to line out leading off the inning, and appeared to have the second out with a strikeout of Welker. But Nick Dini, making a return to the Chukars lineup on his way back to Advanced-A Wilmington following an injury, let the pitch get by him and sending Welker to first. Melton followed with his fifth homer of the year.

Matt Dennis worked a perfect ninth inning to close out the win.

Dini, a member of Idaho Falls 2015 Pioneer League championship team, went 2 for 4 with a run to lead the Chukars. Meibrys Viloria added a two-run double for Idaho Falls.

Up next

The Chukars (30-29, 8-13 second half) and Rockies (28-30, 12-8) wrap up their four-game series tonight in Colorado. Idaho Falls then hits the road for two games in Orem beginning Wednesday.

Sunday’s game

ROCKIES 10, CHUKARS 6: At Grand Junction, Colo., Jose Gomez belted a pair of home runs and Grand Junction held off Idaho Falls in a game that featured five round-trippers.

David Edwards hit his seventh and eighth home runs of the season, but the Chukars couldn’t keep up. After taking a 2-0 lead in the top of the second, Grand Junction scored three runs in the third and three in the fourth. Idaho Falls kept chipping away, but couldn’t catch up.

Edwards finished 2 for 4 with two runs and three RBIs to lead Idaho Falls. Ricky Aracena went 2 for 4 with a triple, a run and an RBI while Rudy Martin was 2 for 5. The Chukars were hurt by four errors. Igol Feliz took the loss after giving up six earned runs on eight hits in four innings.

Gomez was 4 for 5 with three runs and four RBIs while Tyler Bugner went 2 for 4 with four runs scored for the Rockies.

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

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

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

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

Lefties shine

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sending them home

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

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

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

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

Player of the game 

Chukars second baseman Angelo Castellano 

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

Up next

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

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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.