The State College Spikes won their home opener tonight, with a 5-2 victory against Williamsport. The Spikes came from behind in the sixth inning, thanks to a bases loaded infield single by Ryan Hornback which, combined with a throwing error by the third baseman, put State College up 3-2. The Spikes scored two more in the seventh inning to add some insurance.
Joely Rodriguez got the start, struggling with his command. Rodriguez gave up two runs on three hits in four innings, with five walks and three strikeouts. Logan Pevny got the win, throwing two shutout innings, allowing one hit and striking out two. Jodaneli Carvajal and Raul Fortunato combined to go 5-for-7 at the top of the order, scoring four of the five runs.
I first saw Joely Rodriguez at the end of the 2010 season, making one of his few appearances with the Spikes after being promoted up a level following the conclusion of the GCL season. Rodriguez was impressive, throwing 88-92 MPH with good arm side run on his fastball, and a good changeup that had the same run and looked like his fastball.
I was looking forward to seeing Rodriguez last year making the jump to State College for a full season. The left-hander started the year in the Spikes rotation. I watched him give up three runs on eight hits in three innings in his second start of the season. That ended up being his last start of the year, as he went down with an elbow injury.
Rodriguez returned to the rotation in State College tonight, set to make his 2012 debut. He started off with two quick outs, then ran in to some trouble, issuing two walks before getting a strikeout to end the inning.
In the third inning, Rodriguez saw more two-out control issues. After getting his second out of the inning, Rodriguez issued his third walk of the game, threw a wild pitch against the next batter, then gave up an RBI double.
In the fourth, Rodriguez issued two more walks, one of them with two outs, but escaped the jam with no damage.
“You’ve seen a pitcher get to 0-2 and they start nibbling. Tonight it seemed like he’d get two quick outs and go to nibbling. And the next thing you know he would pitch himself in to a situation,” Spikes’ manager Dave Turgeon said of Rodriguez’s two out struggles tonight.
Rodriguez was mostly throwing 88-90 MPH with his fastball. He also mixed in a few sliders and changeups, both of which sat in the low 80s. In the past he’s thrown in the low 90s, and has touched as high as 94 MPH. He touched 93 in extended Spring Training. But he has more command of the pitch right now when it’s in the upper 80s.
“He’s probably much better sitting there at 88-89 than trying to run it up there at 92, up and flat with no angle,” Turgeon said. “He is very good down in the zone, 88-89 with good angle. The other thing is, when he’s not over-throwing, slider’s got a little more tilt and bite to it. The changeup’s got a little fade to it, to get some arm side run, and matches his fastball. But when he’s trying to do a little too much, and there’s a lot of energy under the lights with a big crowd, opening night, those things kind of go away a little bit. I think he’s going to settle in and do a really a great job this year. And I’ve seen him for long stretches pound the zone and mix his pitches well and have good command.”
Aside from working on his command, the next big thing for Rodriguez to focus on this year will be his changeup.
“One of the most important pitches that all of these guys are going to learn probably is that changeup,” Turgeon said. “There’s no better way to get someone off your fastball than a changeup. Joely, for me, that’s his second best pitch, ahead of his slider, when he’s right. And also I think it’s maybe his best delivery pitch. I’ve seen him throw the changeup and get his fastball back down in the zone. And then he’s left handed. The changeup can really neutralize the right handed hitters.”
Heading in to the season last year, Rodriguez looked like an intriguing prospect. He was 19 years old, left-handed, could throw his fastball in the low 90s with good movement, and had a good slider and changeup. He’s lost some allure since then. He’s a year older at the same level, although he’s not old for the level. He’s not focused as much on throwing at the upper end of his velocity range. And he’s still working on his command issues. But Rodriguez is a very talented pitcher, and even in a rough start, made a good impression on new catcher Jacob Stallings.
“He’s got movement on all his pitches,” Stallings said. “When he commands the zone he’s really hard to hit. You could tell he was getting a little winded out there at times. Started to drop his arm and left some arm side a little bit. But when he gets that good finish and gets that good extension he sure is hard to hit.”
First Impressions: New Draft Picks
I don’t really put much stock in to one game when it comes to prospects. If I notice something, I’ll usually focus on that for the remainder of the series, then again later in the season to see if what I noticed still exists. So with the disclaimer that it was only one game, here are some first impressions from the new draft picks I saw tonight.
Barrett Barnes – I could see some potential for poor plate patience from Barnes. It’s not just because he had three strikeouts in three at-bats tonight. It was how he had the strikeouts. He swung at some bad pitches outside of the zone, and in one at-bat was caught looking at a fastball which had a backdoor cut down the middle.
Tom Harlan – The left-hander doesn’t have much velocity with his fastball, throwing in the mid-80s, but had a strong curve in the mid-70s. That’s usually a good recipe for success in A-ball, but doesn’t translate well to the upper levels.
Kyle Haynes – He was throwing in the 89-90 MPH range, but had some command issues.
Jacob Stallings – He’s very tall and skinny, which isn’t your usual catcher’s build. He connected well on a few balls, including a double to deep center field, which was the only hard hit ball by State College in the game, and which was his first professional hit.
Other Game Notes
**Joely Rodriguez picked off three base runners tonight. He’s got one of those good left-handed pick off moves that looks like a borderline balk. Unfortunately, two of his three attempts didn’t result in outs. One was over-thrown by Jared LaKind to second base, and the other was dropped by Francisco Aponte when trying to make the tag.
**LaKind also had a wild throw to third which resulted in a run scoring. A ground ball was hit to third baseman Yhonathan Barrios, who tried to look a speedy runner back at second base. Barrios threw, and the runner took off for third. LaKind tried to throw back across the diamond to get the runner, but threw wide, allowing the run to score.
**Jodaneli Carvajal had his second two-hit night in as many games. His triple was a chopper down the first base line that stayed fair. He used his speed to get a stand up triple as the ball took a slow roll to the wall.
**Raul Fortunato had a three hit night, although none of his hits were that hard. He showed off some speed, stealing a base, although he was also picked off at first base during the game.