The State College Spikes opened a three-game series against the Batavia Muckdogs Monday night at Batavia’s Dwyer Stadium. It was State College’s first true road trip of the season, and 2011 seventh-rounder Jake Burnette, a 6-foot-4 prep right-hander from Georgia, was on the mound. Like most of their games early in the season, the Spikes (6-2) utilized solid situational hitting and a plethora of singles to seize a 7-4 win over the Muckdogs (3-5). State College finished with 11 hits, including 10 singles and a double from shortstop Chris Diaz.
In his second start of the season, Burnette was consistent with his velocity through the first three innings. He sat 88-90 mph with his fastball, 76-79 with his curveball (which he threw only a small number of times), and 81-84 with his changeup.
Burnette found himself in trouble in the third inning as he struggled to locate the fastball. He consistently missed low with his pitches, limiting some of the damage. He allowed three runs during the inning, including a double by the Batavia second baseman and a single with a fielding error that led to the first run. Burnette also threw three wild pitches and hit another batter, resulting in three total runs for the Muckdogs.
State College manager Dave Turgeon saw many positives and improvements in the performance of the 19-year-old starter.
“I saw a guy that was teetering between aggression and placing the ball,” Turgeon said. “We want to want to preach aggression, where you throw to your spots, you don’t pitch to your spots. I think you saw him throw a couple of very good downhill fastballs where he let them go. And sometimes out of the stretch, he had a tendency to try to place the ball into his spots, and get himself into trouble. I would like to have him be in that mental frame of mind where it is just aggression all the time and trust. At his age, there is always a tendency to not trust the stuff, particularly when the fire comes. With Burny, it’s one day at a time. He’s 19-year-olds, playing in a man’s league. He gave us four and I think it something to build on.”
Burnette looked sharper in the fourth inning. And while his fastball velocity was down to 86-87, he recorded his only strikeout and got two other quick outs.
“If you look at his experience, he doesn’t have a huge database to draw from,” Turgeon added. “The first time through this league, for him, it’s all new. Everyday he’s out here, he gets a little bit better. I think he built off his last start, and he got a little bit better in this start. Prior to coming here, he had been working on some delivery things. I think the delivery is starting to come together for him, where you don’t think about your delivery, you just go out and compete. For me, trust the stuff and competing over his delivery, I think he needs to get there.”
You can tell that Burnette is gaining more confidence in his stuff and his ability as he gains experience in this league. And while the results weren’t always there in this game, he worked hard to improve and figure it out. Burnette allowed four hits and three earned runs over four innings in the no-decision.
State College’s identity
The Spikes have now gone eight games into this season with a home run, but that doesn’t seem to bother Turgeon as the Spikes are finding ways to produce runs.
“Our guys compete,” Turgeon said. “It’s not always pretty. We’ve played in some close games, and they may bend, but they don’t break. It seems like our hitters put up good at-bats when it counts. And the pitchers seem to be making big pitches when it counts. They turned some big double plays tonight. I like how our guys compete. It’s not pretty. We’re not banging the walls down, but we’re playing some pretty good baseball.”
The 21-year-old North Carolina native finds himself in an unfamiliar position with State College. He has played at the level for the past three seasons, but he has always been an infielder. Last week, he shifted to left field and he is learning the position as he goes along. He finished Monday’s game 2-for-4 with three RBI. Those runs batted-in came on a single in the bottom of the eighth inning that gave State College a 7-3 lead.
“I am just trying to get as many reps as I can everyday in BP and early work,” Gourley said. “The live reads off the bat in batting practice are the most important thing for me right now. It’s been a long time since I have played left field, and with that move, at this level of baseball, I’ve got to make the most out of practice reps.”
Gourley said he, along with may of his teammates, pride themselves on their adaptability.
“Not just me, a lot of us have a lot of versatility,” he said. “All of the guys on the infield tonight can play all three positions. It’s the same with our outfield. We’ve got a lot of guys who can play different positions. Personally, wherever I am in the lineup, I just need to go and play 27 hard outs and contribute every way I can.”
Turgeon echoed those sentiments.
“He got a crash course about a week ago,” Turgeon said. “He’s just a good athlete. He’s a baseball player. If I throw him out at first, he is one of our better first basemen. He can play second with the best of them. He is a shortstop by trade. He can play third, he can take away the bunt, he makes reads. You could throw him behind the plate and he could be my emergency catcher. He’s a very athletic guy, and he is also competing with the bat. Whenever loses patience because he’s been around for three years, you need to realize that he is the same age as a college junior. Some guys bloom late. He’s done a great job in left, and he has made some great plays.”
The 20-year-old right-hander spent part of last season in State College and he struggled. He looked very comfortable in Monday’s win. He came on in relief of Burnette and recorded two scoreless innings, including a key double play in the sixth that quelled Batavia’s rally.
“Pev’s been really consistent, the sink out of the hand, breaking bats, getting on guys’ thumbs, really good,” Turgeon said. “From a year ago to now, I never would have thought he would be in this position. He has come a long way in a relatively short period of time. It’s really been remarkable to see his progress.”
— I will be at the final games of the three-game series. Luis Heredia is slated to start Tuesday, and Clay Holmes will make the start Wednesday.
— Compensatory first-rounder Barrett Barnes was not in the lineup for Monday’s game. He said he expects to play Tuesday.
— Batavia catcher Jesus Montero is actually the younger brother of Seattle Mariners catcher/designated hitter Jesus Montero.