Chukars off to rough start

Orem Owlz third baseman Zach Houchins tags out Idaho Falls Chukars outfielder Brandon Thomasson during the first game of their doubleheader Tuesday at Melaleuca Field. Photographer Pat Sutphin / psutphin@postregister.com, Date 6/17/2014, Lens 300, ISO 200, FStop {fstop}, Shutter 1/2500, Aperature {aperature},

After waiting nine months — plus an extra 22 hours of rain delay — fans of Idaho Falls Chukars baseball were primed for the first pitch of the 2014 season Tuesday night.

That pitch? A sizzling 92 mph fastball from Chukars pitcher Bryan Brickhouse.

Strike one.

Things got a little sideways from there, however, as the Chukars dropped both ends of a doubleheader 12-3 and 5-2 against the Orem Owlz at Melaleuca Field.

Monday’s scheduled season opener was postponed by rain, pushing Opening Day back 22 hours to 5 p.m. Tuesday as part of a twin seven-inning doubleheader.

Tuesday’s doubleheader came nine months to the day after the Chukars won the 2013 Pioneer League title, the franchise’s first title since 2000.

Of course, that was then, said Idaho Falls manager Omar Ramirez.

“We came out tonight and let a lot of guys get their feet wet,” he said. “We started 6-14 last year, and we learned not to panic. It’s not how you start, but how you finish. Last year we put everything together at the end of the year and got a championship.”

That didn’t keep Brickhouse from throwing a strong three innings in his first start since 2012, allowing one run on four hits before turning the mound over to the bullpen.

That Game 1 bullpen allowed 12 hits and 11 earned runs over the following four innings, flipping a 2-1 Chukars lead into a 12-3 loss.

Orem hit three solo home runs in the opener, adding a fourth solo homer in the nightcap.

Offsetting Orem’s hot start to some degree was Idaho Falls right fielder Brandon Thomasson, who drove home all three Chukars runs, including two on a solid double into the gap in his first professional at bat.

“The losses were not good, but the first series in my professional career was pretty awesome,” Thomasson said. “It’s fun to get out here and play, and I am just trying to take it all in, and go out and have fun.”

Game 2 starter Alec Mills made a short rehab start for the Chukars, striking out two in one perfect inning. Mills, who was a quality pitcher for Idaho Falls in 2012 before heading to Kansas City Rookie League affiliate Burlington, where he posted a 1.59 earned run average, threw just 12 pitches before handing the ball to teammate Zach Lovvorn, who is scheduled as a Chukars starter.

The two teams will play the third of a four-game set tonight with first pitch scheduled for 7:15.

CHUKARS CHATTER: Alexis Rivera spent most of Tuesday showing off his Pioneer League Championship ring to his new teammates. The rest of the day was spent celebrating life, as the Puerto Rico native turned 20. … The Chukars also played their season openers against the Owlz in 2012 and 2013, winning those games 16-14 and 4-0, respectively. … No team has repeated as Pioneer League champions since Helena turned the double in 1995-96. … Orem third baseman Zach Houchins hit the first pitch he saw as a professional for a home run, knocking a Brickhouse fastball off the scoreboard for a solo home run. … 2014 third-round draft pick and Central Florida lefty Eric Skoglund is expected to arrive in Idaho Falls on Thursday, along with Sam Houston State first baseman and eighth-round pick Ryan O’Hearn.

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