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Minor league baseball: Junis saves best for last, pitches team to league title

Royal finish

Jake Junis got just what he wanted for his birthday.

A day after his 21st birthday, Junis pitched the Kansas City Royals' rookie level Idaho Falls Chukars to the Pioneer League title.

Junis turned 21 on Sept. 16. That night, he found out that he would get the ball for the deciding Game 3 of the league championship series with the Helena (Mont.) Brewers.

It was a pleasant surprise for Junis, who had not pitched in the postseason and was not scheduled to. But, teammate Yender Caramo could not go because of shoulder problems, and Junis got the call.

"Coach [Chukars manager Omar Ramirez] called me into his office after Game 2 and said, 'We trust your stuff. You have the ball for Game 3,'" Junis said.

Junis saved his best for last, hurling five shutout innings of three-hit ball in the Chukars' 6-0 win. He piled up eight strkeouts and walked two.

He had not pitched since Sept. 16, but thought the time off did him good.

"I got a lot of extra rest," Junis said. "I knew when I went out and played catch that I felt really good. The ball was flying out of my hand. And, I had a good bullpen [warmup], and I had all my pitches.

"There's days you feel good, and days that are not so good. That day, I felt really good."

Before exiting, Junis escaped a bases-loaded jam by retiring league MVP Michael Ratterree.

"[Ratterree] came up with the bases loaded and two outs in the fifth," Junis said. "I got him to fly out. It was pretty sweet to get him out in that situation. It was me against him."

Junis will get his first championship ring as a pro in spring training. He and several of his Idaho Falls teammates just missed winning rings at Burlington (N.C.) last season.

"I would have liked two rings in two seasons, but I'll take one," Junis said.

It was a spectacular finish to an otherwise shaky season for the 2011 Rock Falls High School graduate.

In 13 regular-season appearances, all starts, Junis was 2-6 with a 7.39 ERA. He worked 59 2/3 innings, striking out 55, allowing 85 hits and walking 17.

"It was an up and down season," Junis said. "There were high moments and low moments. I learned a lot and got a lot better."

He is currently in the advanced instructional league in Arizona and has had two "good" outings there. He'll be there another week before coming home to Rock Falls for the offseason.

Junis was also a standout shortstop and hitter in high school. He's still learning the nuances of pitching.

"I'm becoming more of a pitcher," he said. "Being an infielder all my life, it's taking time to become a pitcher, think like a pitcher, get my mechanics right. I've improved in a lot of those areas."

Junis won't throw for a few months, but it won't be a true offseason.

"I'll be working out and trying to get bigger and stronger for next season," he said.

No offense meant to Idaho Falls, but Junis does not want to be back there next season.

"I'm trying to make the next jump," he said. "Then, maybe move up another level by the end of next year and keep getting closer and closer [to the big leagues]."

Junis by the numbers

2012: 2-2, 4.15 ERA in 7 appearances, 6 starts at rookie Burlington (N.C.)

2013: 2-6, 7.39 ERA in 13 appearances, all starts at rookie Idaho Falls

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