Kevin Franklin led off the bottom of the ninth swinging freely. He tried to hit the first pitch he saw over the Rims but missed. Later in the at-bat he flailed at strike three in the dirt.
Idaho Falls reliever Sam Lewis went on to strike out Shed Long and Nick Benedetto to earn his first save of the season, and the Chukars beat the Mustangs 4-2 on a hot Wednesday night at Dehler Park.
“It was poor pitch selection at the end, the swing and miss on the ball in the dirt,” Franklin said later. “It’s something I’ve had to work on. It’s a day-to-day process. It’s not going to happen overnight, and I’m not expecting it to happen overnight.”
Franklin, who’s still baby-faced at 19, is slow to find his footing in the Pioneer League. For a kid who’s still new to pro baseball, it’s a step-by-step procedure. The Cincinnati Reds believe in Franklin as a prospect, or they wouldn’t have drafted him in the second round out of high school in Cerritos, Calif., in the 2013 draft.
Through 18 games so far in Billings, Franklin is hitting just .157 (11 for 70). But Wednesday offered great promise. Aside from the ninth inning, Franklin had three quality at-bats and produced his second multi-hit game of the year.
The 6-foot-1, 220-pound first baseman, who toiled last summer in the Arizona League, hit a single up the middle in the fourth against Idaho Falls starter Torey Deshazier, and then pushed a single through the right side of the infield in the sixth against reliever Emilio Ogando.
“He stayed on the ball and got two base hits,” Mustangs manager Dick Schofield said. “For him to have success you’ve got to use the entire field instead of just pulling everything. That was really nice to see.”
Franklin says the game has sped up for him in the Pioneer League. Once it starts to slow down again, Franklin believes you’ll see tangible results.
“From high school to last year down in Arizona, everything seems to go a lot quicker out here,” Franklin said. “It’s something I’ve got to get used to. But I feel like I’m finally starting to come into my own, and that’s all I can ask and that’s all the coaches are asking from me.
“One thing they’ve always told me is to not put too much pressure on myself . Just give it 110 percent, and that’s what I’m trying to do every day.”
KEY MOMENT: The game was tied 2-2 after the teams went back-and-forth in the first. But in the fourth, the Chukars’ Mike Hill came out first-pitch swinging against Jeremy Kivel and hit a triple into the right field corner. Brandon Thomasson followed with a single to center, and Idaho Falls had a lead it never gave up.
ON THE MOUND: Mustangs pitchers again had trouble with Idaho Falls’ Ryan O’Hearn, who went 2 for 5 with a solo home run. But they’re really having trouble with Wander Franco, who had three more hits and is now 7 for 10 in the series. Idaho Falls starter Torey Deshazier (2-0) outperformed the hard-throwing Kivel (0-2), who had an otherwise decent line. Kivel gave up three earned runs in 4 1/3 innings.
AT THE PLATE: Hill’s fourth-inning triple was one of four three-baggers the teams combined on, two of which rolled into the 350-foot right-field corner. “It’s weird how balls get down in there,” Schofield said of Dehler Park’s right-field dimension. “It’s almost like the Bermuda Triangle. You’re going to get a triple unless you’re extremely slow.”
ON DECK: Game 3 of this four-game set is Thursday at 7 p.m. at Dehler Park. The Mustangs will trot Luke Moran (1-0, 5.49) to the mound to oppose Tejay Antone (0-1, 10.12). “The thing with everyone is when you have to throw a fastball for a strike and everybody’s looking for it, if the other team has decent hitters they’re going to hit you,” Schofield said. “(Moran) really has to use the corners and pitch instead of just throw.”