Brian O’Grady wasn’t about to miss his opportunity.
So when he drew a third-inning walk Wednesday night, and Grand Junction pitching coach Ryan Kibler took a trip to the mound to settle Rockies starter James Lomangino, O’Grady took his own trip.
The Billings Mustangs center fielder strolled off the bag three or four steps to his right and struck up a conversation with Grand Junction first baseman Michael Cuddyer.
“I just said, ‘How does it feel to be back down here?’ “ O’Grady recounted after the Mustangs fell 6-5 to the Rockies, largely due to Cuddyer’s 3-for-3 night and three RBIs. “He said, ‘I haven’t been down here since ’97.’ I was five years old back then.”
Cuddyer, last year’s National League batting champ, is in Billings to start what’s expected to be a nine-game rehab stint as he tries to get back to the Colorado Rockies after breaking his shoulder on June 5.
The 14-year Major League Baseball veteran is scheduled to play again in Billings on Thursday and ride the Grand Junction bus to Great Falls for some playing time against the Voyagers for that weekend series.
After that, Cuddyer is expected to join Colorado’s Double-A team in Tulsa, Okla., for four more games before a hopeful return to the big-league club.
Cuddyer was off to a solid start for the Rockies when he broke his shoulder. He was batting .317 with five home runs and 16 RBIs in 120 at-bats. He won the N.L. batting title last season with a .331 average.
The 35-year-old Cuddyer, batting second for Grand Junction, took a first-pitch ball from the Mustangs’ 20-year-old starter, Tejay Antone.
After fouling off the next two pitches, Cuddyer sent the fourth pitch back up the box, forcing Antone to hot-foot it out of the way.
It didn’t get any better for Antone, who otherwise pitched a good game, giving up just three hits and only one run to players not named Cuddyer during his five innings.
In the third, Cuddyer laced a two-run double down the third-base line, and in the fifth, he crushed a ball to left-center that landed at the base of the wall at the deepest part of the ballpark.
“This is all a learning experience,” said Antone, who admitted there was an intimidation factor in facing Cuddyer. “Every time you go out, you take something from it and learn from it. And I got to face a major-league hitter tonight and I learned from it. I saw that they don’t miss your mistakes.”
Mustangs manager Dick Schofield had another take on the night.
“I wish he would have rehabbed somewhere else, though,” he deadpanned with a smile. “But good for him for getting back healthy.”
Colorado has used its rookie-level Pioneer League affiliate several times for rehab stints. Former Rockies star Todd Helton played a few games with the Casper Ghosts in 2010; pitcher Roy Oswalt made one appearance for Grand Junction last season; and closer Rafael Betancourt has appeared in 11 games for Grand Junction this season, pitching as recently as Monday against the Mustangs.
KEY MOMENT: Even with the big night from Cuddyer, the Rockies still needed a knock from Wesley Jones in the eight inning. His single to center brought home two runners for the 6-5 lead and the Rockies held on from there.
ON THE MOUND: Grand Junction pitchers, all five of them, allowed just five hits and one earned run. Closer Alex Crawford picked up his seventh save, which ties him for the league lead.
AT THE PLATE: Grand Junction had 13 hits in all. For the Mustangs, Jordan Sparks hit his sixth home run and Aristides Aquino drove in two runs to give him a league-leading 48 RBIs.
UP NEXT: Cuddyer is expected to play seven innings as the Rockies designated hitter in Thursday’s series finale at Dehler Park. The game has a 7:05 p.m. start time.