Luis Heredia won his fourth game of the year to close out the Spikes season with a 5-0 shutout against the Mahoning Valley Scrappers. Heredia was sharp tonight, using 61 pitches (38 strikes) to get through 5 innings, giving up only two hits, walking one, and striking out five. Kevin Kleis, Bryton Trepagnier, and John Kuchno finished off the shut-out, and the Spikes benefitted from several good hitting performances. Center fielder Walker Gourley was 3 for 4 with three doubles and an RBI and right fielder Jesus Vasquez was 3 for 3 with two doubles and an RBI. Third baseman Eric Wood added two RBIs for Spikes.
Heredia Finishes Strong
Of the starts I’ve seen from Heredia this season, tonight was his best. He was workman-like and efficient, getting ahead of hitters with his lively 91-94 mph fastball, locating the pitch down and not catching too much of the plate. He only gave up one well-hit ball on the night, a line drive double in the 5th to second baseman Robel Garcia on a change-up that he left up.
Heredia’s effectiveness with the fastball is almost expected at this point. But as good as it has looked all year, it’s gotten better lately because of improvement of its location.
“He established early in the year that he could throw it down and down the middle. One of the things he’s worked on in the last month is moving it to both sides of the plate,” said Spikes pitching coach Justin Meccage. “Because he’s not going to be able to throw it down and down the middle in West Virginia or wherever he is next.”
More surprising tonight was the growth of his secondary pitches including the five change-ups he threw and a sharper curve ball than I’ve seen before. Heredia mostly uses his change-up when throwing to left-handed hitters, since it moves down and away to these hitters.
“I love where the change-up is at. Love it. He’s throwing it with great arm speed,” says Meccage.
A New (Better) Curveball
Tonight was my first look at Heredia’s new iteration of his breaking ball. Previously, he was throwing a slower, looping curve in the mid-70s with good off-speed break, but lacking in swing-and-miss results. Tonight, what I saw was something that was harder and acted more like a slider. He threw the pitch about 10 times, frequently for a strike and ahead in the count, getting two swinging strikeouts with it out of the zone.
“He’s really developed the breaking ball,” said catcher Jacob Stallings. “We’ve been working on a put-away pitch.”
Meccage is very excited about the development of the pitch. Heredia may still use his slower curve ball, but ideally he will move into using only the harder one as a primary strikeout pitch. The difference between the two pitches is that he releases the harder curve later in his delivery with arm speed more similar to his fastball, giving it more velocity, less depth, and a sharper late break. This arm action disguises the pitch much better than the loopier curveball, and it gets on top of the hitter quicker, a strength when Heredia starts to face higher quality batters.
“It was a very good pitch for him tonight in the first three innings,” says Meccage. “He lost it a bit later when I think he was overthrowing it.”
Most impressively, Heredia has only been throwing the new curveball for the last month, so with time he should be able to improve the pitch to be the wipeout pitch he needs to increase his strikeout rate. With Heredia, and all the Spikes starters, there has been more focus on increasing their strikeouts at the end of the season.
** Right-hander Kevin Kleis relieved Heredia and was effective in two innings of work, giving up no runs on three hits, no walks, and three strikeouts. Kleis is huge at 6’ 8” but he has struggled getting batters out and has lacked velocity previously. Tonight, he showed better pop on his fastball at 91-94 mph.
**Bryton Trepagnier threw one scoreless inning. Trepagnier throws at a three-quarter arm slot with good arm-side life on his 90-92 mph fastball. Given this arm slot, he needs the movement and command to be good, as he does not feature the downward plane that helps pitchers who throw from a higher slot.
**John Kuchno finished the Scrappers off with a 92-95 mph fastball and pretty good life on his curveball, throwing one for 79 mph to strikeout Logan Vick in the 9th.
**Jesus Vasquez was one offensive star on the night, going 3 for 3 with two doubles and an RBI. Vasquez has shown some power since coming up to State College from the GCL, but he swings at everything, reflected in his 56:11 strikeout-to-walk ratio on the season between the two levels. He reminds me a bit of Quincy Latimore.
**Before the game, DJ Crumlich was named the team’s most valuable player and Clay Holmes the Pitcher of the Year. Look for more analysis of their seasons in Pirates Prospects’ upcoming year-end review.