Manager Oliver Marmol did get strong efforts from his starting pitchers that kept the team in close ballgames, but it wasn't enough to keep State College from having an abysmal road-trip. The club dropped five straight on the road, but returned home and took two of three from Lowell to get a much needed series win.
The Spikes are now in a three-way tie for second place in the New York-Penn League Pinckney division, 2.5 games behind Jamestown.
July 13 at Hudson Valley, Loss 7-6 (10 innings)
The Spikes fell behind Hudson Valley 3-0 in the first, and trailed 6-4 after five, but erased both deficits only to come up empty.
Kevin Herget started the game for State College and gave up a three-run homer to Hudson Valley's Oscar Hernandez in the first. But Herget settled down and kept the Renegades off the board in the second and third.
State College, though, gave the lead right back in home half of the fifth. In relief of Herget, Chase Brookshire came in, but had little help. Two Spikes errors, a passed ball and a wild pitch allowed three Renegades to cross the plate, as Hudson Valley took a 6-4 lead.
Jhonny Polanco worked a scoreless ninth inning but gave up a hit and a single to start the 10th. With runners on first and second, and no outs, Granden Goetzman bunted for the Renegades. Polanco fielded the ball, but slipped as he threw to first, and the ball sailed into right field allowing the winning run to score.
A trio of Spikes, Caldwell, Castillo and Cesar Valera, each collected two hits, going 2-for-4, while Ramos went 3-for-5 on the night.
July 14 at Hudson Valley, Loss 4-2
Both teams struggled offensively through the first four innings, but Hudson Valley capitalized with two outs in the fifth to score the game's first run.
Victor De Leon forced two fly outs to start the fifth, but walked John Alexander and plunked Pat Blair to put two Renegades on base. James Harris sent a two-out line drive to right, driving in Alexander, to give Hudson Valley a 1-0 lead.
State College came right back to tie the game at one in the top of the sixth, as Ramos, who led off the inning with a double to left, scored on a double play ground ball from Valera.
The Spikes gave up the lead in the home half of the sixth though. Ariel Soriano reached on a throwing error by State College third baseman Michael Schulze to lead off, and came around to score on a two-out single from Oscar Hernandez, to give Hudson Valley a 2-1 lead.
Castillo put some pressure on the Renegades in the fifth with a leadoff single, but after moving to second on a ground out and third on a passed ball, was cut down at home plate trying to score on a Trevor Martin ground ball to third.
Kyle Webb came on to pitch for the Spikes in the seventh and sat down the Renegades in order, striking out two.
The Spikes strung a few hits together in the eighth and tied the game at two when Valera plated Ramos with a sacrifice fly to left. But State College could have had at least one more in the frame, had Alex De Leon not been picked off at second base for the first out of the inning.
In the eighth, Schulze booted a ball at third for his second error of the game. That runner later came around to score on a ground-rule double from Hudson Valley's Tyler Young.
Webb was pulled in favor of Jeff Rauh who gave up a sacrifice fly to Oscar Hernandez, and gave Hudson Valley a 4-2 lead.
The Spikes went down quietly in the ninth, and Webb was tagged with the loss. Webb was charged with the final two runs of the game, but neither run was earned due to the error by Schulze.
Despite nine Spikes hits, the middle of the State College lineup went silent as Caldwell, Washington, Martin and Schulze went a combined to go 0-for-15.
Ben O'Shea started the game for State College, and held Hudson Valley hitless and struck out three in three innings of work. It was the big lefty's final outing before his promotion to Peoria.
July 15 at Hudson Valley, Loss 3-2 (12 innings)
David Washington got State College on the board in the second with a solo shot to right for his fifth home run of the season.
Katz then added his first professional home run with a bases empty dinger in the seventh, to give State College a 2-0 lead heading into the eighth.
However, the Renegades plated two runs in the home half of the eighth, then earned the win when Johnny Field ripped a double off the left-field wall against Mitch Harris to score the game-winner in the 12th.
The Spikes squandered many opportunities late, as they had the leadoff man on base in every inning from the eighth inning on, but were never able to bring him across.
Washington and Katz each had multiple hits for State College, as did Steven Ramos. Matt Young also contributed a double to the Spikes' offensive cause.
Catcher Dante Rosenberg, a July 8th free agent signee from the University of South Carolina, made his professional debut, going 1-for-2 with one hit by pitch and a sacrifice bunt while catching 11 of the 12 innings in 90-degree heat.
State College starter Willy Paulino tossed five shutout innings, allowing three hits and four walks. Paulino got out of a bases-loaded, no-out jam with no damage in the second inning using two of his season-high six strikeouts.
Harris took the loss after yielding his first earned run of the season in the 12th inning. Harris gave up two hits and two walks while striking out two over 2 1/3 innings.
July 17 vs. Lowell, Win 8-2
After a day off, the Spikes returned home. Caldwell collected four hits as State College stopped its five-game skid with an 8-2 win. The second baseman scored a run and knocked one in with his four singles in five at-bats.
The Spikes offense broke out of their funk, collecting 14 hits. Bosco, Castillo and Carson Kelly all had multiple hits as State College smashed a season-high five doubles.
Petree started and went five innings for his first professional win, allowing just one run on five hits, three walks and a hit batsman. The Missouri State product also struck out five.
Reed followed Petree and allowed just one run, earning a rare four-inning save. The left-hander gave up a run on four hits and struck out six to finish the game.
July 18 vs. Lowell, Loss 4-3
The Spikes had base runners all night and hits in every inning but the fourth and ninth, but were unable to produce when it mattered. They stranded nine base runners and went 2-for-10 with runners in scoring position.
Both teams got out to sluggish starts offensively due, in part, to solid pitching performances from both squads.
Andrew Pierce worked the first five frames for State College, and turned in his best performance of the season. Pierce allowed four hits and one earned run and struck out three. The Stringer, MS native's earned run came in the fifth, when a groundball to Mason Katz at second base was originally ruled an error, which would have made Pierce's run unearned. But the scoring on the play was changed after the game, and cost Pierce his only earned run in an excellent performance.
Pierce's ability to "pitch backwards", and throw breaking balls early in the count, was a major key to his success Thursday night.
After the Spinners drew first blood in the fifth, the Spikes came right back with two in the fifth to take a 2-1 lead. Kelly and Ramos each picked up RBI singles, as the Spikes tagged Spinners' reliever Simon Mercedes for four base knocks in the inning.
With a 2-1 lead, the Spikes sent Polanco to the mound in the sixth, but the Spinners took the lead before Polanco managed to record an out. Polanco walked the first batter and gave up a two-run home run to Spinners' right fielder Aaron King, which gave Lowell a 4-2 lead. The 6'3" righty from Nicaragua walked the next two batters and gave up an RBI single before being given the hook without retiring a batter.
Jacob Booden came on for State College with two runners on and nobody out. The tall right-hander struck out the first two batters he faced and popped up the third to end the inning.
The Spikes tacked on their third run in the eighth, but went down in order to end the game in the ninth.
Ramos went 4-for-5, extending his hit streak to 12, and bringing his season average to .438. The Tracy, CA native had gone 24 for his last 45, as of Friday, and was leading the New York-Penn League in batting by 53 points.
July 19 vs. Lowell, Win 4-2
Spikes starter Juan Bautista battled back from a rough first two innings to earn his first professional win Friday. Bautista gave up a run on a groundout in the first, and a line-drive solo home run to right in the second, but collected himself and allowed just one groundout and one walk over his final four innings.
State College cut the Spinners lead in half in the fourth when a Rosenberg groundout brought Kelly home for the Spikes first run.
Katz put State College ahead for good in the sixth with a high fly ball to left, which cleared the fence by inches, for a two-run home run.
Carson Kelly also contributed his second three-hit game in as many nights, adding eighth inning RBI double for a Spikes' insurance run.
Steven Ramos' 12-game hit streak fell by the wayside due to an 0-for-3 performance, but the outfielder still leads the New York-Penn League with a .421 batting average.
Webb and Harris followed Pierce with single innings of scoreless relief. Rauh came on in the ninth, and the first two batters reached before he sat down the next three to earn his second save of the season.
At the Plate
Steven Ramos came on in place of Ronald Castillo a few weeks ago when the latter missed ten games due to a sore shoulder. In Castillo's absence, Ramos got the attention of Marmol and his coaching staff, by picking up Castillo's slack offensively, and playing great outfield defense.
Of late, the Tracy, CA native has been nothing short of spectacular. Ramos' 12-game hitting streak ended in Friday's contest, as he hit .533 (24-45) over that span. The Cardinals' 22nd round pick in 2010 had his best year offensively in 2011, when he batted .274 in Johnson City, but is batting an astounding .421 this year, leading the New York-Penn League in batting by 47 points.
Carson Kelly, who played in five games this week, started to come out of his shell offensively. The Cardinals 2nd round pick in 2012 batted .450 this week, going 9-for-20 with two doubles and two runs batted in. Although Kelly doesn't have great numbers to show for his efforts in the extra base hits and RBI categories, he hit the ball hard all week.
The Portland, OR native is six for his last eight heading into play Saturday, and has been squaring up the baseball and spraying it all over the yard. On Thursday, he collected three hits, a hard one-hopper through the middle, and two line drives. Kelly collected three more hits Friday, including two more strong line drives.
After Friday's game, the Spikes third baseman said that he has learned, and has grown a lot, both mentally and physically, since last year, and attributes his recent offensive successive to a strong mental approach at the plate.
Matthew Young has struggled all season offensively, and it is finally starting to cost him some at-bats. Marmol stuck with him for the first few weeks of the season, likely because he is the best defensive right fielder on the squad, but the Compton Community College product's defense can't hide his .205 batting average any more.
The 6'3", 230-pounder is an excellent athlete, with a great arm, but has failed to hit the ball hard with any consistency, and looks uncomfortable in the batters box. He has seven doubles on the season, but a few of those are singles that he turned into hustle doubles, with many of his singles bleeders through the infield.
Young does lead the club with five stolen bases, but has as many strikeouts as he does hits, 16.
On the Mound
In spite of the 2-4 record this week, State College received some excellent pitching performances from its starters. Andrew Pierce and Juan Bautista were the highlights of the week for the Spikes.
Pierce earned a no-decision on Thursday, despite pitching five innings of one run ball. The 2013 draftee's lone run allowed was initially ruled unearned due to an error allowing said runner to reach base, but the error was changed to a hit post-game, and therefore became an earned run. In this reporter's humble opinion, the ruling never should have been changed, as Mason Katz booted a ground ball that he has the ability to field cleanly 99 out of 100 times.
Particulars aside, Pierce pitched an excellent game. The 6'3" righty primarily threw first-pitch fastballs the first time through Lowell's lineup, then began starting batters off with first pitch off-speed stuff, primarily his slurve, and kept the Spinners off balance all night.
The Southern Miss product's fastball, which sat in the upper 80s and low 90s, had some good arm run which he used to "back into" the zone all night long. Pierce says he throw a slider, but claims the coaching staff keeps telling him "it's a slurve", as his primary breaking pitch. Regardless of its name, the pitch did a number on the Spinners offense. Pierce's breaking ball, generally, isn't very tight, but can sweep a good distance around 77-79 mph.
Bautista must have been paying attention to Pierce on Thursday, as he used a good mix of pitches to earn his first professional win, and first quality start in five attempts this season.
Bautista struggled out of the gate, allowing two hits, two walks and two runs in his first two innings, but buckled down, and commanded the strike zone the rest of the night. The 20 year-old has struggled with command this season, but credited a "don't give in" attitude to Friday night's performance.
The second inning home run he allowed was a on a fastball that got turned around in a hurry, and in all likelihood put a good size dent in the bleacher backs in State College. But, unlike other outings this season, the righty didn't let it snowball into a big inning.
The Santo Domingo, DR native used a low 90s fastball and low 80s circle-change to keep Lowell off the scoreboard, as he faced the minimum in the third, fourth and fifth innings. After the game Bautista looked, and seemed relieved to get his first win out of the way, and said that this a performance he believes he can build on.
Below is what the average Spikes lineup looked like over the past week.
Jimmy Bosco – CF or RF
Cesar Valera – SS
Bruce Caldwell – DH or 2B
Ronald Castillo – LF
David Washington – 1B (played RF once this week)
Carson Kelly – 3B
Mason Katz – 2B or DH
Alex De Leon or Luke Voit – C
Steven Ramos – CF
Matt Young – RF
Matt Young is penciled in here, as he has gotten most of the time in right this season, and although he is a strong defensive asset, his continued struggles offensively has cost him at-bats of late.
Jimmy Bosco got a couple days off this week, and his presence, along with that of Matt Young, really affect Marmol's lineup construction. If both Bosco and Ramos are playing, Young probably isn't and Bosco will play right. If only one of either Bosco or Ramos is playing, he will be patrolling center. In this situation, we've seen Marmol put Young or David Washington in right.
If Young isn't in the lineup, Marmol will bat Ramos last to turn the lineup over, and when Valera gets an off-day, Ramos bats second. If Bosco isn't playing, Ramos takes over his position at the top of the order.
If Washington is in right, Michael Schulze or Alex De Leon will play first. Bruce Caldwell and Mason Katz are still rotating between second and DH on a game-by-game basis.
Michael Schulze, along with Trevor Martin on occasion, is earning playing time by giving infielders Washington, Valera or Kelly a day off.
7/16 – Ben O'Shea promoted to Single-A Peoria
On the Horizon
The Connecticut Tigers roll into State College on Saturday for a three-game series that will close out State College's six-game homestand. The Spikes will then hit the road for three mid-week games in Mahoning Valley, before returning home on Friday for a two-game series against Auburn.
Follow Robert Davidson on Twitter at @robo_tweets, and on Flickr at flickr.com/photos/robert_davidson.
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