The State College Spikes closed out their three-game series in Batavia with an impressive 6-2 win that featured strong pitching, especially from the bullpen, and 14 hits on offense. The Spikes improved to 7-3, while the Muckdogs fell to 4-6. Barrett Barnes led the State College offense as he finished 4-for-5 with two runs scored.
Catcher Ryan Hornback went 3-for-4 with two doubles and four RBI. Hornback delivered a two-run single in the top of the first that staked the Spikes to a 2-0 lead. He then added a two-run double in the eighth innings that gave State College a 5-2 lead. Third baseman D.J. Crumlich was 2-for-4 with a double and left fielder Walker Gourley continues to hit well as doubled twice.
But the game was more notable for the second start by 6-foot-5 right-hander Clay Holmes.
The 2011 ninth-rounder persevered through an up-and-down start for the Spikes. He pitched a very strong first inning, garnering three quick outs on 11 pitches. His fastball was lively, sitting between 89-92. And he flashed an active changeup at 81. So what was the key for the first-inning success?
“I was attacking hitters early,” Holmes said. “I know that, that team likes to swing early a lot. Just knowing that, I was able to get some early contact and some early outs.”
“Tonight, I didn’t really feel like I had my best stuff, but I thought I competed well and made some good pitches at certain times in the game,” Holmes said. “I got in some jams, but I got through it. We won, so it’s all positives. I competed through not having my best stuff, and I felt like that was a positive tonight.”
Both manager Dave Turgeon and pitching coach Justin Meccage noticed that Holmes seemed to be getting away from the very thing that made him successful in the first inning, but they both noted that they appreciated how Holmes self-corrected and recovered.
“Holmesy was in and out of aggression,” Turgeon said. “He has a tendency to do that. When he is aggressive, his stuff really plays. It is down-angle and really good. The quicker he learns that his stuff is really that good, the quick he’s going to progress. With that comes confidence, and I am pleased that we got him through that and he gave us five.”
“I saw a guy who started very aggressive,” Meccage added. “In the second inning, I thought he got away from that and he just started to try and locate. You saw a couple walks in that inning. I challenged him in the third inning to get after it a little bit more. He responded in the following innings with that mindset that he had to be aggressive.”
Holmes said, headed into his next start, that he wants to maintain that aggressive attitude that he flashed in the first inning. Regardless, he has earned wins in his first two starts of the season and his ERA is still zero. And while many smart baseball fans will acknowledge that those stats can be misleading or meaningless, they have to feel good for a 19-year-old starting pitcher in his first full season of pro ball.
“I just need to keep attacking hitters early,” Holmes said. “I walked a couple of guys there and I feel like I lost my focus. I need to keep that mentality for the whole game.”
And after a sterling debut last week, Meccage said Holmes needed to truly earn a win, but this is just another experience, another opportunity to learn for the young right-hander.
“He had to work a little bit harder for this one,” Meccage said. “The defense made some great plays behind him, which really helped. He put the ball on the ground, which was nice to see. The in and out of aggressiveness, I didn’t like. But he got back in, which is the most important thing.”
The 2012 supplemental first-rounder out of Texas Tech maintains a simple approach to baseball: Work hard everyday and the other stuff will sort itself out.
“For me, honestly, I just try to work everyday and get better,” Barnes said when asked about his goals for his first professional season. “Whatever happens at the end of the season, happens, and however the numbers lie, they lie. I am going to come out and work hard, put my best foot forward everyday, just kind of grow and mature as an individual. I am still kind of young and I am still getting used to this atmosphere. Like I said before, I am thankful for it. I am just going to keep working and improving everyday.”
And a night after going 0-for-3, Barnes utilized his simple approach during Wednesday’s win. The center fielder finished 4-for-5, and probably should have reached base five times, but he was called out on a double play after appearing to beat the throw to first. He demonstrated his great closing speed as he beat that throw to first. Regardless, it is easy to see that Barnes is truly having fun playing professional baseball, something which will no doubt inspire Pirates fans to root for him.
“It’s a blast, something I’ve been looking forward to my whole entire life,” Barnes said. “I’ve worked my butt off to get here, and now I am just enjoying it.”
Turgeon is obviously a fan of Barnes, noting the outfielder’s speed and ability to hit to all fields.
“I think he just needs to play and get some experience,” Turgeon said. “He’s experiencing pro ball. It’s his first go-round in strange surroundings and he’s got attention off the field here for being a high pick. A lot of other guys don’t have to contend with those expectations. They are just happy to be here and play loose. He will be fine. He is flashing his talents. I am impressed by his tools and I think he’s a great kid.”
Diaz, a 2012 11th-rounder out of North Carolina State, looked like a pitcher’s best friend during the three-game series in Batavia. He made a number of strong plays at shortstop, including two separate plays (one Monday and another Tuesday) where he ranged behind second base, came up with the ball, and made a quick, strong throw to first base to nab some speedy Batavia runners.
Diaz also laid down a nice bunt and then beat the throw to first base in the bottom of the eighth. That loaded the bases and set the plate for Hornback’s timely two-run double. Turgeon envisions Diaz as a key member of the team going forward. The manager expects the presence of Diaz to make his teammates into better defensive players.
“That kid will stabilize our infield and he is really going to help (second baseman Jodaneli) Carvajal,” Turgeon said. “His intelligence and feel for the game will stabilize Carvajal. I think those guys are going to feed off each other. You are going to see some pretty good turns in the future when they get to know each other. I look forward to seeing that.”
Turgeon notes that his shortstop’s competitive nature remains his biggest attribute and his strongest tool.
“He competes,” Turgeon said. “Don’t underestimate a guy that will do anything in a situation to get the job done. He will give himself up offensively to move runners. He is laying out for balls on defense. He is a very, very competitive guy. To me, it’s his best tool, that intangible right now. People underestimate that, but it goes a long way. Strong-willed guys really survive in the game.”
Diaz noted that he is still transitioning into his first season of professional baseball, but he was modest and quick to deflect praise for his defense to the coaching staff.
“It’s good to be able to chase your dream, it’s good to be here,” Diaz said. “It’s not easy, that’s something I’ve found out. It’s a grind, but you get used to it after you figure out your routine. This level is about getting to know what you need to work on. You come here, you play hard everyday, and you work with the coaches. They tell you what you need to work out and you just go out there and try your best. It’s really about playing hard, running on and off the field, professionalism. You also work on hitting a lot since you are trying to adjust to the wood bat.”
— Right-hander Joan Montero looked strong in his two innings of relief. The 23-year-old struck out three and walked one over two scoreless innings.
“He did a nice job of mixing all three pitches in the strike zone,” Meccage said. “The fastball was really good; it’s always been good. We’ve encouraged him to throw the changeup and slider and he did that tonight. He shoved it in the strike zone, which was nice to see.”
— It needs to be noted that these pitches really seem to be taking the teaching of Meccage to heart. He, along with manager Dave Turgeon, are really stressing aggressiveness and competing during each at-bat. With such young starters, it might seem difficult for them to maintain a consistent level of focus and aggression, but they really seem to be listening to Meccage.
And the implementation of a changeup-heavy approach, or at least an approach that stresses the importance of the pitch, it seems like the State College starters are really growing and learning during the early stages of this season.
“It’s been a great experience,” Meccage said. “They are all really coachable guys, very competitive. That’s our main goal for these guys, we want them to be as competitive as they can be. They’ve done a nice job with that. We also want them to realize that they can only control what they can control. For the most part, for guys that are 17-19 years old, they’ve done a nice job with that.”
Meccage has found himself altering his teaching methods a bit as the younger starters don’t have what Turgeon calls a “database” of experience from which to rely upon.
“You need to call them out on everything, and let them know what’s right and wrong. Because they don’t know what a college guy might know,” Meccage said. “You just need to let them know when things are right and things aren’t so right. You need to help them along and fix that. Also, letting them fix that on their own. There is a fine line of that.”