Tag: MJ Sanchez

Chukars beat Orem 10-6 in the second-to-last game of 2016

Chukars catcher Mark Sanchez (15) tries to slide by Owlz infielder Franklin Torres (6) during  Wednesday's game at Melaleuca Field. (Taylor Carpenter / tcarpenter@postregister.com)
Chukars catcher Mark Sanchez (15) tries to slide by Owlz infielder Franklin Torres (6) during Wednesday’s game at Melaleuca Field. (Taylor Carpenter / tcarpenter@postregister.com)

The Idaho Falls Chukars overcame some shaky pitching and three errors from the defense to pull out a 10-6 win over the Orem Owlz in front of 1,321 fans Wednesday at Melaleuca Field.

Idaho Falls overcame the sloppy play with an offensive performance that brought back memories from the first half of the Pioneer League season, when Chukars bashed their way to 22 wins. Idaho Falls finished with five extra-base hits and 15 hits Wednesday.

Four times two

The Chukars were muddling through the first four innings, trailing 4-2 before coming alive with four runs in the fifth. Nick Heath started the surge with a walk and a stolen base, and he moved to third on a throwing error.

Ricky Aracena then struck out, but reached first on a wild pitch. Manny Olloque followed with a two-run double to left and moved to third on the the throw. After Yeison Melo struck out, Nick Dini doubled in Olloque. And with two outs, MJ Sanchez drove in Dini with a single to right.

Idaho Falls added another four-spot in the seventh, the first coming home on another Sanchez RBI single. Jordan Ebert tripled to score Sanchez and Olloque, and then came home on a throwing error.

Orem cut the deficit to four with a run in the eighth and had the bases loaded in the ninth before Drew Milligan got a ground ball to end the threat.

Olloque was 3 for 5 with a double, two runs and two RBIs while Ebert was 2 for 4 with a double, a triple, a run and two RBIs.

Jason Freeman earned the win in relief, allowing two runs (one earned) on two hits with one walk and five strikeouts.

Player of the game

Idaho Falls catcher MJ Sanchez

It’s been a tough year for Sanchez, a 2015 35th-round draft pick who has been stuck behind league MVP Meibrys Viloria at catcher. Sanchez has played in just 21 games and had 70 at-bats, and Wednesday’s game was his best. The Corono, Calif., native went 4 for 4 with a double, two runs and two RBIs.

Up next

Idaho Falls (39-36 overall, 17-20 second half) wraps up the 2016 season with a final home game against Orem. There will be a fireworks display following the game.

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 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.

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).

Chukars stay tied for first with 9-2 win over Brewers

Sanchez
Sanchez

Errors and poor pitching led to the Idaho Falls Chukars’ late-inning collapse on Friday. So how did they respond? By committing zero errors and shutting down the Helena Brewers’ lineup.

I.F.’s lineup was its usual self, as well. All of those ingredients added up to a 9-2 win over Helena on Saturday night at Kindrick Legion Field. The victory kept the Chukars tied with Orem for first place in the Pioneer League South standings.

Four-score

In one inning, I.F.’s lineup turned a pitchers’ dual into a comfortable lead. One inning later, the game became a laugher.

The Chukars and Brewers were tied at 1-1 heading into the fifth. Ryan Dale reached on an error to start the inning, sparking a four-run rally.

Dale led off the sixth with a walk, which sparked another four-run inning.

Catcher MJ Sanchez, shortstop Ricky Aracena and right fielder Yeison Melo recorded a hit in both the fifth and sixth. Sanchez provided the only extra-base hit a double in the two frames, and he finished the game 3 for 4.

The Chukars surrendered a 6-1 lead the night before. 9-1 proved too much for Helena to overcome, thanks in large part to their starting pitcher.

Sneaky Arnaldo

Hernandez
Hernandez

Chukars right-hander Arnaldo Hernandez has a quick pickoff move to first base that has sniped baserunners all season. Hernandez picked off another one Saturday, upping his season total to four.

The way he was pitching Saturday, Helena couldn’t afford to lose baserunners. Hernandez went 5.2 innings, allowing one earned run on seven hits, two walks and seven strikeouts. It was tied for his longest start of the season.

Two-team race

The Ogden Raptors are four games back of the Chukars and Owlz, but their chances of catching either team in the first half ended Saturday with a loss. The South division has two teams vying for the first half title, and four games remain.

I.F. (20-14) wraps up its four-game series at Helena (13-21) on Sunday and travels to Missoula (13-21) for three games starting Monday.

Orem, meanwhile, wraps up its four-game home series with Great Falls (18-16) on Sunday. The Owlz (20-14) then host Billings (21-13) for a three-game set starting Monday.

Billings and Great Falls are the only teams still breathing in the North division, but the Mustangs can clinch the first half title on Sunday with a win and a Voyagers loss.

Player of the game

Chukars starting pitcher Arnaldo Hernandez

Five I.F. batters recorded at least two hits, but Hernandez kept the Chukars in the game and clamped down after his lineups two big innings.

Up next

First pitch between the Chukars and Brewers Sunday is scheduled for 1:05 p.m. Igol Feliz gets the start for I.F. against fellow righty Karsen Lindell.

Chukars keep raking in 12-10 win over the Raptors

Angelo Castellano slides into home plate for the Idaho Falls Chukars’ fourth run of the first inning Tuesday night at Melaleuca Field. (Photo courtesy of Steve Thayer)
Angelo Castellano slides into home plate for the Idaho Falls Chukars’ fourth run of the first inning Tuesday night at Melaleuca Field. (Photo courtesy of Steve Thayer)

Manny Olloque struggled in the game after his parents left Idaho Falls. Coincidence?

“Maybe they brought me some luck,” Olloque said with a smile.

“Struggled” is a relative term he went 1 for 4 with an RBI and a run scored for the Idaho Falls Chukars on Tuesday nightOlloque just didn’t live up to the Pioneer League Player of the Week version of himself, the guy who hit two home runs and upped his batting average from .174 to .333.

And while Olloque was quiet Tuesday, his teammates more than made up for it. The Chukars beat the Raptors 12-10 Tuesday night at Melaleuca Field, capping a 5-1 homestand.

Good offense overcomes all

The Chukars committed three more fielding errors Tuesday, increasing their season total to 54 (17 more than Ogden, which is second in the Pioneer League). I.F. has also erred 19 times the last four games, and yet its record is 3-1 in those contests.

That’s what happens when every hitter is hot.

The Chukars have averaged 14.5 runs and 17.3 hits per game over the last four, and those figures went down Tuesday. I.F. mustered 15 hits in the 12-10 win, and they did it without catcher Meibrys Viloria, who leads the league in OPS (1.417).

Viloria’s replacement MJ Sanchez went 3 for 4 on Tuesday, while second baseman David Edwards went 3 for 5 and center fielder Nick Heath went 2 for 5 with a double and triple.

“We’re staying on the fastball, crushing our pitch, finding gaps,” Olloque said. “We’re swinging good right now, playing good, and we look to continue.”

Frabasilio moves up

First baseman Colton Frabasilio was assigned to Advanced Single-A Wilmington on Tuesday.

Frabasilio had 48 at-bats in 12 games for the Chukars this summer. He batted .348/.436/.500 (batting average/on-base percentage/slugging percentage).

Pounders makes MLB debut

Former Chukar Brooks Pounders made his MLB debut Tuesday in Kansas City’s 8-3 loss at Toronto. The right-hander allowedone earned run on three hits, a walk and three strikeouts in two relief innings.

Pounders, 25, was called up from Triple-A Omaha after Royals closer Wade Davis was placed on the disabled list. Kansas City designated lefty Tyler Olson for assignment to make room for Pounders on the 40-man roster, per the Kansas City Star.

Pounders’ first stint in Idaho Falls came in 2014. The 6-foot-5, 265-pounder posted a 4.80 ERA in 15 innings that season. Pounders also pitched three scoreless innings for the Chukars last season on a rehab assignment.

Player of the game

Chukars starting pitcher Andres Machado

12-10 games with 32 combined hits usually result in battered arms. Tuesday’s game was no different, except for two pitchers: Ogden reliever Bernardo Reyes (three scoreless innings) and Machado.

The I.F. right-hander allowed two runs in the first inning, but both were unearned thanks to two errors. His final three innings were scoreless. Overall, Machado allowed six hits and no walks with seven strikeouts.

Up next

The Chukars (11-7) begin a five-game road trip starting Wednesday night, when they start their two-game series at Ogden (4-14). Alex Luna gets the start against fellow righty Gregor Mora. First pitch is scheduled for 7 p.m.

Chukars notebook: Controversy surrounds minor-league wages

chukars-extra-125x125

A 300 percent pay raise how’s that for an incentive?

Three-hundred percent is the approximate raise a Triple-A baseball player would receive if he was called up to the MLB team’s 40-man roster, according to sports law attorney Jeff Blank. The wage gap is larger for players in the minor leagues’ lower levels; large enough to inspire a lawsuit.

Salaries for first-year players on the 40-man roster equalled $41,400 in 2015, according to Blank. First-year AAA players, meanwhile, made $2,150 a month. That rose to $2,400 for their second year and $2,700 for their third year.

First-year Double-A salaries are $1,700 a month with an additional $100 per month for subsequent seasons. Advanced Single-A salaries are $1,500 a month and low A’s are $1,300.

The seasons from Low A to AAA span seven months. Short-season teams like the Idaho Falls Chukars play from June to September, and their players make $1,150 per month.

All minor-leaguers get $25 in meal money per road day.

The federal poverty level for individuals is $11,880 in yearly income, which is higher than every minor-league salary below AAA.

The minor-league salaries listed above do not account for post-draft signing bonuses, and players often negotiate for higher salaries after their initial seven-year contract is up.

Two years ago, a lawsuit was filed against the MLB on behalf of 20 former minor-leaguers. The lawsuit, as Baseball America reported, “claims that major league teams have suppressed minor league player salaries in violation of federal and state labor laws, and calls for minor leaguers to be paid a salary that meets minimum wage requirements.” A judge ruled that the suit could be expanded to a class action, as Baseball America reported last year.

Congress recently proposed an amendment to the Fair Labor Standards Act that would prevent guaranteed minimum wage and overtime pay for minor-leaguers. The MLB released a statement in response to the legislation, which compared minor-leaguers to artists or musicians.

“For the overwhelming majority of individuals, being a Minor League Baseball player is not a career but a short-term seasonal apprenticeship in which the player either advances to the Major Leagues or pursues another career,” the statement read.

The MLB also argued that minor league clubs could not afford increased player costs. If the 2014 lawsuit succeeds, the MLB would likely share a chunk of its multi-billion dollar revenue with the minors. Retraction is another reality the MiLB would face.

For now, players have to reach Triple-A or the major leagues if they want to earn a living playing baseball.

Dozier makes Futures Game roster

This week, former Chukar Hunter Dozier was named to the 2016 MLB Futures Game roster.

Dozier, a shortstop for Triple-A Omaha, is one of two Kansas City Royals prospects on the Futures roster. The other is outfielder Jorge Bonifacio, who also plays for Omaha.

The Futures Game features 25 of the world’s best prospects against 25 of the U.S.’ best. It will be played at 5 p.m. July 10.

Dozier was the No. 8 overall pick in the 2013 MLB draft. He spent 54 games with the Chukars in 2013, hitting .303 with .912 OPS and seven home runs.

Roster moves

Here are all of the roster moves the Chukars have made since the beginning of the season:

June 17: Outfielder Nick Heath and catcher MJ Sanchez join I.F. Heath was a 16th-round pick in last month’s MLB draft, and Sanchez was selected in the 35th round.

June 22: Chukars first baseman Brandon Dulin is promoted to Single-A Lexington, where he had played until suffering an injury on April 12.

June 25: I.F. adds right-handed pitcher Jace Vines, who was selected in the fourth round of June’s draft. He is the highest 2016 pick on the Chukars roster as of July 2.

June 26: Right-handed pitchers Reid Redman (on a rehab assignment) and Sam Lewis are promoted to Lexington.

June 30: Left-handed pitcher Sam Selman moves up from the Arizona League to Idaho Falls, continuing his rehab assignment. Selman was named the Pioneer League Pitcher of the Year in 2012, when he played for the Chukars. He posted a 2.09 ERA with 89 strikeouts and 22 walks in 60.1 innings (12 starts) that season.

July 1: Kansas City moves outfielder Jose Sanchez from I.F. to its other Rookie ball team, the Burlington Royals. Fellow outfielder Leland Clemmons moves up from the Arizona League to the Chukars.

Who’s hot?

C Meibrys Viloria

Viloria has cooled down a bit, but his batting average is still a blistering .467 (as of press time), good for second in the Pioneer League. Going into Saturday, Viloria led the league in slugging percentage (.805) and doubles (nine).

Who’s not?

RHP Arnaldo Hernandez

In Tuesday’s start against Orem, Hernandez gave up eight earned runs on nine hits in three innings pitched. That performance raised his season ERA to 9.24 and his opponents’ batting average to .393. Hernandez does, however, have eight strikeouts against two walks in his three starts.

Chukars rally for a 5-4 win over the Owlz

Chukars pitcher Matt Portland grabs a bunted ball during the game against the Orem Owlz on Wednesday at Melaleuca Field. (Pat Sutphin / psutphin@postregister.com)
Chukars pitcher Matt Portland grabs a bunted ball during the game against the Orem Owlz on Wednesday at Melaleuca Field. (Pat Sutphin / psutphin@postregister.com)

The Idaho Falls Chukars fell behind early, gave up a late home run and suffered an ejection Wednesday against the Orem Owlz at Melaleuca Field.

The same three events occurred in I.F.’s7-4 loss to Oremon Wednesday, but the similarities mostly ended there.

The Chukars quickly turned a 1-0 deficit into a 4-1 lead, and they held on for a 5-4 win to end their two-game losing streak to the Owlz.

Big fifth inning

Orem scored its first run in the top of the fourth inning, but it didn’t record a hit until an inning later. That first run scored thanks to a Connor Justus walk, a sacrifice bunt and a two-base wild pitch by Chukars starter Matt Portland.

The way I.F. was hitting, it wasn’t far fetched to think the fourth-inning run would have been enough for the Owlz. But I.F.’s early listlessness disappeared in the fifth inning. The Chukars notched five of their seven hits in the frame and scored four runs.

Among the hits that inning was a single from catcher MJ Sanchez. It was the first professional hit for Sanchez, who was drafted in the 35th round of this year’s MLB draft and made his pro debut Tuesday.

Portland escapes

Portland allowed only one hit in his five innings Wednesday night, but he was far from dominant.

The left-hander began his day by walking leadoff hitter Jahmai Jones and hitting two more Owlz in the top of the first inning. Luckily for Portland, a double play negated the walk, and he induced a groundout (with the two runners he plunked on base) to end the inning.

Portland also walked Jones to lead off the third inning, but another double play erased the damage.

Portland ended up with five walks (three to lead off an inning) and the two hit-by-pitches, but he struck out four and allowed one run.

Another ejection

With two outs in the top of the third inning, Chukars starting catcher Meibrys Viloria exited the field so suddenly, it took a while for spectators to figure out what happened.

Home plate umpire Will Glienke had ejected Viloria mere seconds after Orem designated hitter Brennon Lund drew a walk. Viloria didn’t get in a heated argument with Glienke. In fact, it was hard to tell if the catcher said anything. Chukars manager Justin Gemoll had a brief conversation with Glienke after the ejection, and Sanchez came into replace Viloria.

Chukars third baseman Manny Olloque grabs a foul ground ball during the game against the Orem Owlz on Wednesday at Melaleuca Field. (Pat Sutphin / psutphin@postregister.com)
Chukars third baseman Manny Olloque grabs a foul ground ball during the game against the Orem Owlz on Wednesday at Melaleuca Field. (Pat Sutphin / psutphin@postregister.com)

Gemoll said Glienke did not give an explanation for the ejection, but he would explain it later.

Glienke also tossed Gemoll in Tuesday’s game for arguing about a play at first base that the umpires reversed from out to safe.

Player of the game

Chukars shortstop Angelo Castellano

The 21-year-old normally starts at second base, but he played shortstop Wednesday in place of Ricky Aracena. Castellano played solid defense all night, but his bat earned him this accolade.

Castellano went 2 for 2 with an RBI triple in the four-run fifth and a sacrifice fly in seventh. The sac fly provided a crucial insurance run for the Chukars, who went up 5-2 in the inning. Orem’s Troy Montgomery (2 for 3) hit a two-run home run in the eighth to cut I.F.’s lead to one.

Up next

The Chukars (3-2) and the Owlz (3-2) wrap up their four-game series Thursday night at Melaleuca Field. First pitch is scheduled for 7:15 p.m.

Chukars begin their season on the right foot with an 8-2 win over Ogden

Idaho Falls Chukars first baseman Brandon Dulin narrowly misses the opportunity to tag out Gersel Pitre, of the Ogden Raptors, during the top of the second inning Friday at Melaleuca Field. (Pat Sutphin / psutphin@postregister.com)
Idaho Falls Chukars first baseman Brandon Dulin narrowly misses the opportunity to tag out Gersel Pitre, of the Ogden Raptors, during the top of the second inning Friday at Melaleuca Field. (Pat Sutphin / psutphin@postregister.com)

David Edwards wasn’t about to let his first professional hit turn into an out.

The Idaho Falls Chukars’ designated hitter came up in the bottom of the eighth inning with two outs and two on. Edwards laced a line drive to the right of Ogden second baseman Carlos Aquino, who slid and snagged the ball after one hop.

“I was running as hard as I could,” Edwards said. “I had to get my first hit out of the way.”

The 23-year-old beat Aquino’s throw by a step.

For Edwards, the hit was a relief. For the Chukars, it was the perfect way to cap a successful season-opening win.

I.F. handled the Raptors 8-2 on Friday night in front of 3,160 fans at Melaleuca Field. The win especially pleased the Chukars’ coaches, who watched their team start last season on the opposite foot.

“It sets a tone for us,” Chukars manager Justin Gemoll said.

The Chukars had a better offensive performance in last year’s season opener, scoring 10 runs against Grand Junction. The problem was they allowed 16 runs. They gave up the same scoring total in game two, and 11 Rockies scored in the third game. I.F. turned its season around in the second half, but the 0-3 start was an omen in a rocky first half.

Arnaldo Hernandez dashed those memories with a dominant, efficient five-inning start Friday. He allowed one earned run on three hits, no walks and five strikeouts. Of his 56 pitches, 44 were strikes.

“His fastball command was really good early, to both sides of the plate,” Gemoll said. “He was mixing in his changeup and his breaking ball very well. He was a bulldog.”

Alex Luna added two scoreless innings, and Reid Redman allowed one earned run in two frames to close it out.

Idaho Falls Chukars shortstop Ricky Aracena fumbles an infield grounder during Friday's game against the Ogden Raptors at Melaleuca Field. (Pat Sutphin / psutphin@postregister.com)
Idaho Falls Chukars shortstop Ricky Aracena fumbles an infield grounder during Friday’s game against the Ogden Raptors at Melaleuca Field. (Pat Sutphin / psutphin@postregister.com)

The three I.F. pitchers didn’t allow a walk, while their batters drew nine. Left fielder Luke Willis led the base-on-balls brigade by walking twice, and he hit two singles to begin his season with a perfect on-base percentage.

“There’s great chemistry between all the guys, on and off the field,” Willis said. “That might not be so common in other places, but it’s definitely here.”

First baseman Brandon Dulin added two singles and a walk in five plate appearances.

Edwards was nowhere near the top of the Chukars’ hitting leaderboard Friday, going 1 for 5 with no walks, no runs scored and no RBIs. But he’ll cherish the career-opening hit, especially considering how murky his future looked a year ago.

Edwards graduated from Loyola Marymount two springs ago but went undrafted due to a shoulder surgery following his senior season, when he hit .316 with six home runs. Some major league teams feared he tore his labrum, Edwards said, which is one of the most concerning injuries a baseball player can have.

But Edwards’ rehab went smoothly, and he remained on the Kansas City Royals’ radar. In February, Kansas City signed him.

“I knew I’d have a shot because of my success in college,” Edwards said. “I knew someone would give me a chance, and I’m glad the Royals did.”

Roster moves

The Chukars added a pair of 2016 draft picks to their roster Friday, outfielder Nick Heath and catcher MJ Sanchez.

Heath, 22, was selected in the 16th round out of Northwestern State University. Sanchez, 21, was taken in the 35th round out of Cal Baptist University.

The Chukars now have 29 players.