Tag: Nick Heath

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.

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

chukars-logo-125x125

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 crumble in an 11-5 loss to Orem

Idaho Falls Chukars bat boy Derik Johnson congratulates Joe Dudek after Dudek’s two-run home run in the bottom of the fourth inning against the Orem Owlz Saturday at Melaleuca Field. (Courtesy of Steve Thayer)
Idaho Falls Chukars bat boy Derik Johnson congratulates Joe Dudek after Dudek’s two-run home run in the bottom of the fourth inning against the Orem Owlz Saturday at Melaleuca Field. (Courtesy of Steve Thayer)

The Idaho Falls Chukars went 7-12 on the road in the first half, yet they almost won the Pioneer League South Division title. league-best 15-4 home record kept them in the hunt.

The road struggles have worsened in the second half (3-10), and I.F. has plummeted down to average at home.

I.F. fell to the Orem Owlz 11-5 on Saturday night at Melaleuca Field. The Chukars are now 7-6 at home in the second half, and the division crown continues to stiff-arm them. They’re dwelling at the bottom of the South standings, five games back of the Ogden Raptors. Twelve games remain.

So close, yet so far

Saturday’s game went back-and-forth for eight innings. Even the Owlz’ three-run rally top of the seventh, which gave them 6-2 lead, was answered. The Chukars scored twice in the bottom half.

Orem’s lead was cut to one when Luke Willis hit a one-out RBI triple in the bottom of the eighth. But Rudy Martin and Nick Heath each struck out, providing omens for the next inning.

Cole Way came in to pitch the top of the ninth, and he lasted a long time in terms of minutes, not outs. Way faced eight batters and recorded one out. He allowed four hits and walked three, leading to five runs (all earned) and an 11-5 for Orem.

“We’ve been fighting,” Chukars first baseman Joe Dudek said. “We just seem to have that one inning that kinda kills us.”

It was a rough night for the entire Chukars bullpen. Starter Igol Feliz allowed three runs (one earned) in six innings. The righty was replaced by lefty Christian Flecha, who allowed three runs (two earned) in the first of his two innings. Overall, the relievers allowed seven hits and four walks while striking out two.

Dudek thrives as I.F. dives

I.F.’s subpar second half has coincided with a Joe Dudek hot streak.

Dudek went 0 for 3 on Aug. 13 against Great Falls, dropping his batting average to .207 and his OPS to .672. The first baseman has gone 16 for 36 (.444) since, including a 1 for 2 showing on Saturday in which he drew three walks and hit two-run home run.

His batting average is now .319, and his OPS is around 1.000.

“I feel comfortable in the box. That’s really all there is,” Dudek said. “Seeing pitches pretty well, putting good swings on it and good things have happened.”

Player of the game

Owlz left fielder Zach Gibbons

Orem first baseman Nick Flair and Jose Rojas each produced three hits, but Gibbons reached base more times. Gibbons went 2 for 3 with two walks, and he stole two bases.

Edwards gets promoted

Chukars infielder David Edwards was promoted to Single-A Lexington on Saturday. The Kansas City Royals did not send player to the Chukars as of Saturday night.

Edwards appeared in 51 games for the Chukars, and he was positioned all over the field. The 23-year-old played 22 games at first base, 16 at second and six at third, according to Baseball-Reference (he was I.F.’s designated hitter in his other seven games).

Edwards hit .284 with a .346 on-base percentage and a .490 slugging percentage in 218 plate appearances. His eight home runs lead the Chukars, as well.

Up next

The Chukars (32-31 overall, 10-16 second half) welcome the Ogden Raptors (32-32, 15-11) for a crucial four-game series starting Sunday. I.F.’s Andres Machado (4.17 ERA) takes on fellow righty William Soto (5.31). First pitch is scheduled for 4 p.m.

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.

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.

Mustangs rough up Chukars 12-5

Machado
Machado

The crowd at Melaleuca Field has seen plenty of offense from the Idaho Falls Chukars in 2016. But they haven’t seen anything more impressive than the offensive showing the Billings Mustangs displayed Monday night.

Billings pounded out 21 hits and held off two Idaho Falls rallies to beat the Chukars 12-5 in front of 3,290 fans in a game that lasted 3 hours, 22 minutes.

It was the sixth loss in seven games for Idaho Falls, which remained three games behind Grand Junction in the Pioneer League South Division second-half standings.

Whatever you can do

Billings grabbed a 1-0 lead in the top of the first on a leadoff triple by TJ Friedl and an RBI single from Taylor Trammell. The score remained stuck at 1-0 until the bottom of the fifth, when Idaho Falls bats held to one hit up to that point finally came to life.

Nick Heath got things started with a leadoff single and then stole second. He moved to third on a single from Luke Willis. With Ricky Aracena batting, Heath came home on a passed ball. Manny Olloque gave Idaho Falls the lead with a swinging bunt to third.

Billings didn’t take long to answer, scoring four runs on five hits against reliever Drew Milligan. The momentum from a solid start by Andres Machado (five innings, six hits, one earned run, five strikeouts) and the mini rally in the fifth was gone.

The Mustangs tacked on three runs in the seventh in what looked like insurance runs at the time. But Idaho Falls scored three runs on four hits to make it a game.

It wasn’t a game for long. Billings put the game out of reach after the first two hitters struck out, scoring four runs on five hits.

Idaho Falls went 1-2-3 in the bottom of the ninth.

No relief

It was a tough night for the Idaho Falls bullpen. Milligan picked up a blown save and the loss after the rough sixth inning, while Jason Freeman allowed seven runs (six earned) on 10 hits in 2.2 innings. Cole Way walked one and struck out one in 0.1 innings.

Player of the game

The entire Billings lineup

There’s no way to pick one player for the Mustangs, who got a hit from every player in the lineup. Cassidy Brown led the way with four hits, while Jose Siri, Taylor Trammell, Hector Vargas and John Sansone each had three. Trammell, Montrell Marshall, Sansone and Morgan Lofstrom each had two RBIs.

Up next

The Mustangs (33-19, 10-4 second half) and Chukars (27-26, 5-10) play the second game of their four-game series tonight at Melaleuca Field. First pitch is scheduled for 7:15 p.m.

Sunday’s game

CHUKARS 7, VOYAGERS 3: Idaho Falls snapped a unsightly five-game losing streak, thanks to a strong start from Igol Feliz and a five-run second inning.

Feliz pitched in and out of trouble during his seven innings, allowing nine hits but not allowing a walk and limiting Great Falls to two earned runs.

And the offense, which had averaged just 2.8 runs during the five-game skid, belted five doubles and 11 hits total. Designated hitter Joe Dudek led the way, going 3 for 4 with two doubles, a run and two RBIs. Luke Willis, Angelo Castellano and Ryan Dale also had two-baggers.

And the defense, which leads the league in errors, didn’t have a miscue and turned one double play.