2014 UA Game Recap (Innings 4-6)
Through the first three innings of play, each team had one runner get into scoring position, but neither team was able to get the first run across the plate. The American pitchers were more dominant early, recording six of nine outs via the strikeout, allowing no hits or free bases, and facing only one above the minimum number of hitters – and that was only because of an error. So, beginning the middle innings the game was still 0-0 and the National team was still looking for their first hit.
Two-way player Austin Riley took the mound to start the fourth. Even in a short outing in which he faced four hitters, he showed feel for pitching and was consistently around the plate with his fastball and curve. He worked between 88 and 90, and spun a mid to upper 70s breaking ball. Chris Betts lead off the inning with a scorched line drive double directly over the head of Starling Heredia in center field. He made a great pass on an 87 mph fastball to get into scoring position with nobody out. Ke’Bryan Hayes followed with a great situational at bat, advancing Betts to third base with a firm grounder to Kody Clemens at second base. The at bat was indicative of his advanced and instinctual feel for hitting. He got a pitch away and went with it to move the runner – textbook winning baseball.
Kyler Murray started his day unlike any of the other Under Armour All-Americans. Instead of waking up at the W Hotel on Lake Shore Drive in Chicago, he woke up in Allen, TX and made his way to a morning football practice. After that, he was off to the airport to board a flight to Chicago – only to get delayed, such that he didn’t arrive until right around the national anthem. After some quick “pre-game hitting”, he made his first appearance with Chris Betts on third base and one out. Murray hadn’t seen live pitching since late June, and as a result was predictably out of sync in his first at bat. Riley greeted him with a breaking ball ball strike, and went on to strike him out on a 91 mph fastball up in the zone. With two outs, Devin Davis lined a 90 mph fastball to Josh Naylor at first base to end the inning.
The first of consecutive 6-foot-7 lefties took the mound (how many times do you see that?) in the bottom of the fourth inning, in the form of Hunter Bowling. Though he gave up a couple of doubles and the first run of the game, he showed a solid three pitch mix along with a good delivery and arm stroke. He worked around 88-90 and featured an upper 70s change and a breaking ball around 80.
The first two outs came quickly, via a groundout to first base by Franklin Reyes and then a strikeout looking of Ryan Johnson on an 88 mph fastball away. Josh Naylor tomahawked a 90 mph fastball up and away for a line drive double to the ivy in left center field. With two outs and Naylor at second base, Ryan Mountcastle doubled down the right field line to drive in the first run of the game. In BP both Friday and Saturday, and through his first two at bats in the game, it was clear that his approach is built for hard contact to right center field. His move to contact is short and extremely quick, and he works through on almost an inside-out path – setting up the ability to drive the ball the other way. Nicholas Shumpert grounded out to Ke’Bryan Hayes at third base to end the inning, he got down the line right around 4.4.
Justin Hooper, another 6-foot-7 left hander, took the mound to start the fifth inning. If there’s a more uncomfortable pitcher to face than Hooper, I haven’t seen him. Left handed hitters, good luck…though right handers don’t get much more of a chance. He strides nearly off the mound and looks like he’s reaching out and placing the ball in the catcher’s mitt. His fastball registered as high as 95 with late arm side run, and from a slot lower and more hidden than you’d expect from someone his size. Brendan Rodgers was the first to face Hooper. He chopped a grounder to Nicholas Shumpert at shortstop, which ended up a bang-bang play after Rodgers got down the line around 4.35. It looked like the throw may have pulled Josh Naylor off the bag at first, but the umpire didn’t see it that way and banged him for the first out. Alonzo Jones Jr. turned around to hit from the right side in his second at bat. All the watches in the scouts’ section were on the ready, but to no avail this trip. Hooper buried a filthy 76 mph breaking ball on his back foot for a swinging strikeout that ended with Jones on the ground in the batters box. Seth Beer got a fastball off the end for an inning ending slow rolling ground ball to Kody Clemens at second base.
Continuing the run of left handers, Juan Hillman ran out for the bottom of the fifth. As we’ve seen him do before, he made quick work of each hitter he faced. Pinpoint fastball command and feel for a curve with a big differential off his fastball combine for few good looks, and even fewer good passes. The sum is better than the parts with Hillman, but that isn’t a knock on his stuff. His fastball was 88-90 with sneaky zip, while his curve was around 70 with varying shape (see photos above). Tom Gordon, Hillman’s guardian and a Major League pitcher for 21 years, no doubt had a big influence on his ability to spin a breaking ball. Left handers Wyatt Cross and Kody Clemens were first to face the left hander Hillman. Cross struck out on an 89 mph fastball, while Clemens flew out to Starling Heredia in shallow center field for the second out. Like Alonzo Jones Jr. in the top of the fifth, switch hitter Cal Raleigh turned around to hit right handed in his second at bat. Hillman painted the outside black with a 90 mph fastball for a called third strike to end the inning.
Right hander Sati Santa Cruz began the sixth for the National team. He worked from an arm angle around three quarters, and topped at 92. His fastball had arm side life, and went with a change around 80 and a sweeping breaking ball in the mid to upper 70s. He broke his hands early and worked from the inside of the ball to generate fastball life, but this came at the expense of feel for his secondary stuff. Not surprisingly, he recorded all three outs on fastballs.
Left handed hitting Kyle Tucker saw a 92 mph fastball run away and off his barrel, towards the end of the bat, for a lazy fly ball to center field for the first out. Demi Orimoloye re-entered in Dazmon Cameron’s spot, and was next to face Santa Cruz. He went with a 90 mph fastball away for a solid bouncer to Josh Naylor at first, who flipped to a covering Santa Cruz to complete the 1-3 for the second out. Justin Cohen entered the game in Chris Bett’s slot, and put a good pass on a 91 mph fastball for a well hit fly ball down the right field line. Kyle Dean made a nice running catch, working into the tight right field corner, for the third out of the inning.
Like Juan Hillman in the fifth, Cole Sands featured fastball command and an advanced feel for pitching in the bottom of the sixth. Interestingly enough, both Sands and Hillman were dominant the Team One Futures East Showcase last September in Jupiter, FL. Left handed pitcher Thomas Szapucki also earned his UA Game invitation (though he was unable to participate) via the Futures East, as did infielders Brendan Rodgers and Ryan Mountcastle.
Sands has a simple and repeatble delivery, and his arm worked well from the glove to get the ball up in the air behind him (as seen in the photo at right, courtesy of Mike Janes / Four Seam Images). He pitched between 89 and 91 mph with his fastball, and showed advanced feel for both of his secondary offerings. His breaking ball was 79-81, while his change was around 80. After entering the game in the fourth inning in right field, and fresh off a very fine play on the warning track in the right field corner, Kyle Dean’s first plate appearance came to lead off the bottom of the sixth against Cole Sands. Sands retired him on an excellent change-up for a swinging strikeout, bringing Starling Heredia to the plate. Heredia worked a walk, bringing Ryan Johnson to the plate with one out. He struck out swinging on a 79 mph breaking ball, and then Josh Naylor grounded out softly to Alonzo Jones Jr. at second base on an 89 mph fastball to end the inning. On my card, Cole Sands was the only pitcher to record an out with each of his pitches. He recorded strikeouts via the change (Dean) and breaking ball (Johnson), and induced a ground ball out (Naylor) via the fastball – offering clear proof of a usable and effective three pitch mix, and the confidence needed to throw each pitch to win at bats against elite hitters.