UNIVERSITY PARK Somebody didnt tell the teenagers on the State College Spikes pitching staff a New York-Penn League debut can be an overwhelming experience.
One night after 17-year-old Luis Heredias dazzling start, 19-year-old Clay Holmes established a pleasant rhythm in Fridays 4-0 victory over Mahoning Valley.
In an era filled with pitch counts and inning restrictions, Holmes left Medlar Field at Lubrano Park as a winner. The right-hander pitched five scoreless innings to earn a victory in his first professional start.
Holmes is the first Spikes starter to last five innings this summer. Heredia went four in Thursdays 8-0 victory over Williamsport.
The duo helped the Spikes post consecutive shutouts for the first time since defeating Auburn 7-0 and Mahoning Valley 1-0 on July 24 and 25, 2010.
Its definitely something I like, Holmes said of winning his professional debut. But its more important that the team won. Thats something that I like.
Holmes, Tom Harlan and Emmanuel De Leon combined for 11 strikeouts and held the Scrappers to just five singles. The Spikes have allowed eight hits and own a 22:5 strikeout-to-walk ratio in the past two games. None of the eight hits went for extra-base hits.
Its a direct reflection of what (pitching coach Justin Meccage) does with them on a daily basis, Spikes manager Dave Turgeon said. Its a fine balance. Its a controlled intensity. You see what they are doing out there. They attack the strike zone. They work quickly. Its about him connecting with his guys and his guys embracing it.
Holmes spent some long hours in blistering Bradenton, Fla., working with Meccage, the Spikes second- year pitching coach. The Pittsburgh Pirates drafted Holmes in the ninth round of last years draft and he waited until last August to agree to a generous $1.2 million bonus.
Holmes, though, signed too late to pitch last summer.
Holmes participated in the fall instructional league, reported to regular spring training and remained in Bradenton for another 21/ 2 months for extended spring training. Friday marked his first meaningful game since his dominating senior season at Slocomb (Ala.) High School.
Being down in Florida and competing on those fields and getting to come up here and play in an actual baseball setting. ... Its definitely fun to compete, said Holmes, who bypassed a scholarship to Auburn to sigh with the Pirates. I enjoyed it a lot.
The first inning was Holmes toughest. Jairo Kelly trickled a leadoff single into center field and advanced to second on a groundout. Charlie Valerio then singled to left field, but third-year Spike and outfielder Walker Gourley threw Kelly out at home. Gourley, who played multiple infield positions the past two seasons, started working in the outfield on Monday.
Holmes allowed just one more hit in the next four innings. He kept his pitch count low enough to begin the fifth, and he ended the outing with a perfect inning. For the game, Holmes threw 70 pitches, struck out five and walked one.
I was able to throw all three pitches for strikes when I wanted, he said. It just helped me attack hitters. I felt comfortable out there. Getting ahead in counts helped me a lot. It helped me keep my pitch count low.
Holmes also benefited from tidy defense. The Spikes played their first error-free game.
The offense demonstrated similar execution. A successful hit-and-run by D.J. Crumlich moved Raul Fortunato from first to third with no outs in the second. Fortunato scored on Samuel Gonzalez's sacrifice fly.
Jodaneli Carvajal singled and Chris Diaz walked to begin the third. Both players advanced when No. 3 hitter Barrett Barnes dropped a sacrifice bunt. They scored on Jacob Stallings double to right field. Diaz also doubled and scored on Barnes single in the seventh.
Fortunato, Barnes and Carvajal each had two hits. Barnes, the 45th overall pick in this months draft, has five hits in the last two games. Carvjal is hitting a team-high .529.
We have a lot of guys throughout the order that handle the bat well and we have a lot of speed, Gourley said. Thats really making things happen for us on offense, moving runners and putting pressure on the defense. Thats something as Pirates, thats our identity.
These are prosperous times by Spikes standards. Their 3-2 start is the franchises best since 2006, when they were affiliated with the St. Louis Cardinals. The Spikes are 3-0 at home.
Notes:Mahoning Valley center fielder Tyler Naquin, who went 0-for-4, is the highest 2012 draft pick currently in the NY-PL. The Cleveland Indians selected the former Texas A&M standout 15th overall. ... Turgeon managed Mahoning Valley in 2001. He considers current Scrappers managers Ted Kubiak one of his baseball mentors. ... The Spikes haven't homered through five games.
Guy Cipriano can be reached at 231-4643. Follow him on Twitter @cdtguy