MISSOULA — Dustin Lacaze is a cowboy.
On a steel horse he's riding this summer, traveling across Montana and Idaho as a relief pitcher for the Missoula Osprey. When the Pioneer League season is over, he plans to once again trade the leather of his baseball glove for the aged stuff on his saddle.
Lacaze is a roper from Angleton, Texas. Not just a show-up-to-get-noticed roper but a good one.
"My stepdad (Stormy Wolf) is a big rodeo guy and he brought that to us," said Lacaze, who turned in one of the most dazzling performances by an Osprey pitcher on Monday, striking out nine in 4 2/3 innings at Idaho Falls.
"I played baseball until I was 11. Then I quit and all I did was rodeo. I did team roping and I've rodeod all over the United States. In 2014 I won $110,000 at a rodeo in Salado, Texas. Once baseball picked up I've kind of laid off it a little bit, but I still have some horses. When I go home for the break I'll try to rodeo here a little bit."
Lacaze, whose team posted a 7-4 home win over Great Falls Thursday, has paired up with his stepdad in a lot of rodeos. Dustin typically serves as the header and his stepdad as the heeler.
The 22-year-old believes there's carryover from rodeo to pitching. There's a serious sense urgency in both endeavors. As a roper, you might travel 500 miles for 5 seconds of action, so you need sharp focus.
"You go on a (baseball) road trip nine hours, you don't want to go out there just to get beat up one inning," he related. "There's a lot of failure in rodeo and learning how to deal with that has helped carry over into baseball.
"Also, with rodeo comes a lot of practice. And you're not going to get better as a pitcher unless you practice your stuff."
Taken in the 21st round of the MLB Draft after a stellar career at Texas A&M University-Corpus Christie, Lacaze has improved a lot over the course of his nine appearances. His strikeouts have spiked considerably. He has totaled 16 in his last two appearances, which is more than his first seven appearances combined.
"You learn almost the same stuff (as in college) but it goes into more detail," Lacaze said of professional coaching. "You have to get into a routine. You have to get that going. Then if you have a bad game, you don't have to wonder what you did wrong during the week.
"You just make little tweaks if need be. College you have to do school and study hall and all that. This is baseball. You focus everything around baseball."
Lacaze had a little bit of extra incentive to do well against the Chukars Monday. Five days earlier, the team collected six earned runs on eight hits in four-plus innings against the righty reliever.
"I wanted to redeem myself, especially against the guys that hit me around," he said. "The slider was working really well. When it's working well I can use that quite a bit.
"We kind of know their hitters and we know our strengths. I just got ahead in the count and was able to use the slider and breaking ball."
The Osprey welcomed a ringer in their lineup Thursday and he reaped immediate dividends against Great Falls. Third baseman Marty Herum is in town doing a short rehab stint for Triple-A Reno. He smacked a two-run home run in the first inning.
Tyler Poulin proved to be a ringer on the mound. The 22-year-old Osprey righty, who celebrated his birthday Thursday, limited the Voyagers to one unearned run on three hits with four strikeouts in five innings of duty.
Great Falls scored its one run against Poulin in the third inning. The Osprey answered with three in the bottom half, with Dominic Canzone ripping a two-run home run and Tristen Carranza an RBI double.
Liover Peguero's solo home run gave the hosts a 6-1 lead in the sixth. Great Falls made it interesting with two runs off reliever Liu Fuenmayor in the seventh. But the O's answered in the bottom half when Cam Coursey singled and scored from second on an error.
Missoula lost its closers Monday, with Mailon Arroyo (7 saves) going to Hillsboro and Ryan Fritze (5 saves) to Kane County. The O's (4-3 second half) made due Thursday, with Fuenmayor allowing two runs in two innings and Mitchell Stumpo allowing one run in the final two frames.
First-place Billings (5-1) did not play Thursday at Idaho Falls because of wet grounds. The Mustangs battle the Chukars (1-5) in a doubleheader Friday while the Osprey entertain the Voyagers (3-4).