Alex McRae admitted that he’s learning to pitch again. The 21-year-old right-hander, a tenth-round pick in the most recent draft by the Pittsburgh Pirates, did a good job on Thursday in Batavia, N.Y., of demonstrating his comprehension of these lessons. The 6-foot-3, 185-pound McRae, a former standout at Jacksonville University, put together his best professional outing in eight starts.
“I’m learning how to pitch,” he said after his Jamestown Jammers split a New York-Penn League doubleheader with the host Batavia Muckdogs. “Coming out of college, they’re not really changing much with my mechanics. They’re teaching us how to pitch. I am learning a lot about the Pirates’ idea of pitching and what they want me to do. It’s all about fastball command and the changeup for starters.”
McRae struck out six, didn’t issue a walk, and allowed two hits over five scoreless innings to lead the Jammers to a 3-1 win over the Muckdogs in the opener. McRae got through five innings in an efficient 66 pitches. Batavia won the nightcap, 10-0.
He picked up his first professional win to improve to 1-2. He has a 3.57 earned-run average in 35.1 innings this season. McRae allowed eight hits and five earned runs in five innings in his last start against Staten Island.
“He pitched exceptional tonight,” said catcher Kevin Krause, a ninth-round pick out of Stony Brook. “In the beginning, we tried to work the ball in. We established the inside corner very well, working with our breaking ball and changeup down. The second and third time through the lineup, we went outside and changed it up on them. We also went with the breaking ball early in the counts. He had command of all of his pitches, all three of them. He just had a great night tonight.”
“I think it’s my best outing so far,” McRae said, noting that he is getting more comfortable with his changeup that sat around 82 MPH all night.
McRae did a good job of keeping his pitches down in the zone for the duration of the start. His fastball sat 90-93 MPH all night. It dipped down to 89 in the fourth inning, but he finished strong with 31 pitches over his final three innings. That included a really nice fastball at 91 that he backed up with an 80-mile per hour slider to open the fifth inning.
While McRae said he is getting more comfortable with his changeup, his slider was his strongest off-speed pitch all night, offering good fading action and tight break.
“The first couple times I threw it, I left it up,” McRae said. “Then I got a good feel for it and left it down in the zone. I got a couple strikeouts with it. It worked well. I have a lot of confidence in that pitch.”
If he continues to command his arsenal and improve his feel for the changeup, McRae could be a player to watch in the deep Pirates system.
The Jamestown Catching Trio
The Jamestown catching trio of Taylor Gushue, Krause, and Deybi Garcia is also interesting. Krause and Garcia started the two ends of the doubleheader against Batavia. Gushue, a switch hitter, was the designated hitter in the nightcap. McRae praised Krause’s work behind the plate. Krause also showed a patient approach at the plate.
“It’s definitely an adjustment from college, just the amount of preparation and the workday you have to put in before the game,” Krause said. “The velocity, I am getting adjusted to that. I am just grinding every day. I am trying to see the ball well and shoot it to all fields.”
Gushue, a fourth-rounder in the 2014 Draft out of the University of Florida, worked a nine-pitch at-bat in his final plate appearance in the nightcap. Krause said that each of the three catchers works well together, adding that he has learned quite a bit from his teammates.
“I feed off them and we all try to figure out what’s best do behind the plate,” Krause said. “It’s giving the right target, knowing situations, what to throw in certain situations. We all work together.”