At the end of last week, the State College Spikes came out of their series against Mahoning Valley with back-to-back wins, their first since August 27-28 of the 2014 season.
Progressing through week two of their short-season, single-A schedule, the Spikes have gone back and forth between wins and losses, with one win and two losses against the Staten Island Yankees and two wins and one loss against the West Virginia Black Bears.
Saturday, June 27: State College Spikes at Mahoning Valley Scrappers
Location: Mahoning Valley – Eastwood Field: 7:05 p.m. ET. [Game 3]
The final game in the three-day series against Mahoning Valley was postponed until August 30, 2015 due to rain. The game will be made up as part of a double-header with both contests scheduled to last seven innings.
Sunday, June 28: State College Spikes 4 at Staten Island Yankees 3
Location: Staten Island – Richmond County Bank Ballpark: 4:00 p.m. ET. [Game 1]
The Spikes recorded the first win of the series against the Staten Island Yankees in a 4-3 decision.
Yankees’ pitcher Yoel Espinal retired the first nine Spikes’ batters, before running into trouble in the fourth. Thomas Spitz, who had made it to third, was brought home on a bases-loaded single from Ronnierd Garcia. Leobaldo Pina scored on the throw, allowing the Spikes to lead the Yankees 2-0. Jesse Jenner and Craig Aikin tallied the last two runs with a single and a bases-loaded walk, respectively, also in the fourth.
Juan Perez did well starting for the Spikes, yielding one run – a solo homer in the fourth to right field by the Yankees’ Drew Bridges – on three hits and four walks with two strikeouts in five innings. Newcomer Max Almonte relieved Perez in the sixth and Brennon Leitao took over for Almonte the next inning. Leitao walked three and allowed two runs before being replaced by Pedro Echemendia later in the inning.
Entering a bases-loaded, one-out dilemma and forcing a popout and a flyout to secure State College’s lead, Echemendia saved the game, striking out three batters over the 2 2/3 innings he pitched.
WP: Perez, Juan. (2-0) [1.80]
LP: Espinal, Yoel. (1-1) [7.71]
Monday, June 29: State College Spikes 1 at Staten Island Yankees 5
Location: Staten Island – Richmond County Bank Ballpark: 7:00 p.m. ET. [Game 2]
The Spikes’ three-game win streak ended with a 5-1 loss in the second game against the Yankees.
Starter Landon Beck took the loss. Beck allowed one run on three hits and a walk in four innings while striking out two before being relieved by 35th-round draft pick Luke Harrison in the fifth. Harrison, in his MiLB debut, pitched two scoreless innings and striking out the first batter he faced while giving up one hit. Jery Then allowed one run in the seventh. Nick Frey yielded three runs on one hit – a home run from Drew Bridges – in the eighth.
Craig Aikin scored the lone run on a single from Spitz in the ninth in an unsuccessful comeback attempt from the Spikes. Pina and Casey Grayson contributed multiple hits.
WP: Roeder, Josh. (1-0) [3.60]
LP: Beck, Landon. (0-1) [0.90]
Tuesday, June 30: State College Spikes 3 at Staten Island Yankees 5
Location: State Island – Richmond County Bank Ballpark: 7:00 p.m. ET. [Game 3]
Though the Spikes lost the deciding game of the series to the Yankees, the night was rife with debuts.
Harrison Bader joined the team earlier that day from Florida after signing with the Cardinals the previous day. The hours-old Spikes member smacked two home runs – a solo shot in the third to left field and another in the fifth out to left center that allowed Spitz to come home – to score all three of State College’s runs.
The last time a debuting player hit two homers in one game, Rowan Wick was playing in the Spikes’ Opening Night last season.
Spitz contributed two hits and pinch-hitter Grayson doubled in the ninth. Josh Swirchak – in his State College debut – singled.
While the batsmen tried to rally the team offensively, the pitchers tried to salvage the game. Carson Cross (2015 – 14th-round) made his first professional start and took the loss after yielding three runs on two hits and three walks in a little over an inning.
Cross was relieved by Greg Tomchick, who allowed an unearned run. Kender Villegas took over in the third. Villegas went on to pitch 3 2/3 innings while allowing one unearned run on two hits and a walk with four strikeouts, with Jacob Evans finishing the last two innings in his pro debut.
WP: Callahan, Derek. (2-0) [1.69]
LP: Cross, Carson. (0-1) [27.00]
Wednesday, July 1: State College Spikes 5, West Virginia Black Bears 2
Location: State College – Medlar Field: 7:05 p.m. ET. [Game 1]
The Spikes opened the home series against the West Virginia Black Bears (PIT) strong, winning 5-2.
With four RBIs from Josh Swirchak – two in the first inning with a single to right-center field and another two in the eighth on a double to left-center – and three hits and a run from Danny Martin in the fifth, the Spikes kept ahead of the opposition.
Bader had a strong first game at Medlar Field, going 2-for-4 with a run and a stolen base.
“It’s important to stay focused at the task at hand, and obviously we did that tonight,” Bader said in a postgame interview. “For the club it was definitely a big win. We had a late night and an early morning, so to turn around and do what we did today was something special.”
Ian McKinney started his third game and lasted six innings allowing one run on six hits with two walks. McKinney logged four strikeouts. Relief Tyler Bray went the last three innings and yielded a run. Bray recorded three strikeouts and earned his first save.
WP: McKinney, Ian. (1-2) [4.58]
LP: Agrazal, Dairo. (1-1) [2.81]
Thursday, July 2: State College Spikes 1, West Virginia Black Bears 7
Location: State College – Medlar Field: 7:05 p.m. ET. [Game 2]
The Spikes let their emotions rule in the second game in the series against West Virginia, dropping the ball in the fourth to let the Black Bears take the lead.
Despite four singles (including a bunt) and a run in the third from Michael Pritchard on a hit from Grayson, West Virginia scored five runs on RBI singles the next inning.
Grayson stepped up to the plate in a bases-loaded situation in the fourth, but struck out swinging. Grayson left Spitz (3rd), Pritchard (2nd) and Bader (1st – hit by pitch) on base while giving the responsibility to Pina, who grounded into a 6-4-3 double play.
“Too many times when a runner’s in scoring position or an umpire makes a bad call – or what you think is a bad call – and you let your emotions take over, your mind speeds up,” manager Johnny Rodriguez said. “You aren’t ready for the next pitch.”
Starting pitcher Jorge Rodriguez, who lead the Spikes to victory against the Auburn Doubledays at home over a week ago, went 3 2/3 innings. He allowed four runs on five hits and five walks with two strikeouts. Relievers were Max Almonte in the fourth, Brennan Leitao in the sixth and Jery Then in the seventh.
WP: Otamendi, Andy. (1-0) [1.42]
LP: Rodriguez, Juan. (1-1) [3.95]
Friday, July 3: State College Spikes 6, West Virginia Black Bears 1
Location: State College – Medlar Field: 7:05 p.m. ET. [Game 3]
The Spikes, after getting a slow start the first two innings, managed to catch a second wind during their third and getting – and maintaining – the lead on the Black Bears.
WP: Martinez, Dailyn. (2-1) [3.13]
LP: Brubaker, Jonathan. (0-3) [7.71]
• Josh Swirchak. A new addition to the Spikes, Swirchak saw action this week against the Yankees and the Black Bears. In the past week, he has accumulated a batting average of .357 with five hits in 14 at-bats, four RBI, two walks and one strikeout.
• Casey Grayson. Grayson contributed three multi-hit games and four RBI last week. Grayson has surpassed Garcia as the team and league leader in batting average for the season at .408 with a total of 10 RBI and nine runs on 20 hits in 49 at-bats. Grayson has eight walks and 13 strikeouts.
• Ronnierd Garcia. Although Garcia is out with an injury for a timespan anywhere between the next month and the next season, he was key in the Spikes’ victory over the Staten Island Yankees on Sunday night. Garcia singled a run from a bases-loaded situation at the top of the fourth, going 2-for-4 and was the only player from State College with multiple hits. He also barehanded a slow-roller from Jake Hernandez and fired it to Grayson on first a step ahead of Hernandez for the last out of the game. Garcia’s average is .406, second in the New York-Penn League standings to teammate Grayson. He has six RBI, one home run and five runs on 13 hits in 32 at-bats. Garcia has four walks and six strikeouts.
• Harrison Bader. Just assigned to the Spikes, Bader has made an immediate impact, not only the night he debuted in his professional career with two home runs against Staten Island, but also in the next couple games he appeared in against the West Virginia Black Bears (PIT). Bader has an average of .400, with four runs on six hits and two homers in 15 at-bats. Bader has also had three RBI, no walks and three strikeouts.
• Cole Lankford. Lankford has been hitting the ball hard, however, he has been stuck in a slump – and stuck third from the bottom of the NYPL standings – with an average of .116 with one RBI, five walks and ten strikeouts. Lankford has two runs on five hits with no home runs in 43 at-bats.
Last week, the Spikes lost two players – Jhohan Acevedo and Kenny Peoples-Walls – in promotions to single-A Peoria. This week, pitcher Nick Frey joined his former Spikes teammates in Peoria after being called up on Wednesday before the series opener against West Virginia.
Not only did the Spikes lose Frey to Peoria, but the team also lost another pitcher – Jonathan Escudero – in a call to rookie-level Johnson City on June 25.
Despite the Spikes being down two pitchers, from the 2015 MLB Draft, the St. Louis Cardinals signed Harrison Bader – a University of Florida junior – on Monday, June 29 and the Cardinals decided to send him to State College. Bader played his first professional game on Tuesday against the Staten Island Yankees, where he hit two homers – once in the third and again in the fifth.
During the last game against the Staten Island Yankees (Tuesday, June 30), Ronnierd Garcia took a hit in the outfield on a line drive in the seventh that later became serious as the team was driving through New Jersey. They stopped at a hospital, where Garcia was evaluated. Garcia underwent surgery on Thursday to further investigate the injury and will be out until further notice.
On Thursday, Danny Martin was taken out of the lineup about an hour before the second game against West Virginia was due to start. According to Rodriguez, Martin told a trainer he felt a twinge in his groin and the trainer, due to the fact that the Spikes are early in their season and didn’t want to risk a groin pull, shut Martin down. He will be evaluated day-to-day.
Max Almonte is also out with possible bicep tendonitis, leaving the Spikes down a pitcher.
The Spikes are sixth in the NYPL in batting at .246 with Williamsport in first at .269. The Spikes are third in walks behind Staten Island (73) and West Virginia (65) and last in the league in strikeouts.
In pitching, the Spikes are seventh in ERA with Williamsport leading at 1.75. The Spikes are second-to-last in the league in strikeouts, ahead of Mahoning Valley by just one.
New York-Penn League Pinckney Division Standings
1. Williamsport Crosscutters (PHI) [13-1]
2. Auburn Doubledays (WSH) [6-8]
3. State College Spikes (STL) [6-8]
4. West Virginia Black Bears (PITT) [6-8]
5. Mahoning Valley Scrappers (CLE) [5-9]
6. Batavia Muckdogs (MIA) [3-11]
The three teams in the middle are tied with a 6-8 win/loss record. The Spikes are 3-5 at home and 3-3 away.
The Spikes’ lineups have been generally consistent. Thomas Spitz, Michael Pritchard, Cole Lankford and Casey Grayson have made consistent appearances throughout the first 14 games this season.
Lankford has been rotated through the positions, moving between second, third and shortstop to play for himself (second) or to give players like Pina (shortstop), who has also been a regular fixture within the lineup, a rest, or to fill in for injured players such as Garcia (third). This, says manager Rodriguez, adds more depth to Lankford as a player – giving him more positions at which to gain experience.
Brian O’Keefe and Jesse Jenner, two of the three catchers, have also been switching on and off since the third game against Williamsport during opening weekend. Martin is injured, and R. J. Dennard, whose title of designated hitter has been passed between O’Keefe and, as of Friday’s game, Pritchard, hasn’t seen action since last week with the additions of Swirchak, Aikin and Bader.
Grayson is consistently placed at first base, where he has excelled at becoming a key figure in fielding double plays. O’Keefe is a reliable catcher, and Pina and Pritchard (left field) can cover ground well.
What is Next
Starting on Saturday, July 4, the Spikes will be on the road again. This time, they will travel to Falcon Park for a three-day series against the Auburn Doubledays for the second time this season, but the first time away.
Returning from New York, the Spikes will have their first off-day of the season Tuesday, then return to business with a three-game series against the Connecticut Tigers, Wednesday through Friday.
Follow Stephanie Panny on Twitter @StephaniePanny.
© 2015 The Cardinal Nation, thecardinalnation.com and scout.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.