UNIVERSITY PARK — State College Spikes reliever Jeff Rauh is in the process of reinventing himself.
His three-pitch arsenal became two completely new ones at extended spring training earlier this year. He left his four-seam fastball, curveball and changeup behind and started to develop a two-seam fastball and splitter.
“So that’s what my focus was on spring training,” Rauh said the day he arrived from Jupiter, Fla. “That’s what I’ve been working on. So I’m excited to come here and face other teams and see what’ll happen.”
Rauh has seen mixed results in four appearances so far, allowing two runs in 4 1/3 innings. At times, he’s turned to an off-speed pitch to get an out this season, but he’s expected to stick to the plan laid out by the organization in spring training.
With his four-seam, curveball and changeup, Rauh went 3-2 with five saves and a 4.05 ERA for the Spikes last season. He tied for the lead in appearances in the New York-Penn League with 23.
But now, he’s trying to get comfortable with his two-seam, which he describes as a sinker, and splitter.
After pitching a scoreless inning in his first appearance this season, Rauh lasted just 1/3 of an inning in his second trip to the mound, walking one while giving up one run on three hits in the Spikes’ 6-3 win over Williamsport on Monday.
“He’s working on some different things,” Spikes manager Oliver Marmol said after Rauh’s outing on Monday. “He’s working on a splitter, and it’s evident that he doesn’t have total confidence with it yet, but he’s going to continue to work with it. And it’s to his credit that he goes out there and gives it everything he has knowing that he can’t go to his slider or his changeup. He’s really working on that pitch.”
Rauh bounced back to record four strikeouts and allow one run against Batavia last Wednesday before he earned the save in a perfect 10th inning against the Jamestown Jammers on Friday in the first of a two-game series. The teams met again Saturday night.
Starting over is a challenge, but Rauh was ready to embrace it after two months of work in Florida.
“Over the weeks, it’s been getting a little better and better,” Rauh said. “And I’m starting to get more confident in it. I think it’ll pay off.”
Marmol could tell after the Spikes’ first two games that his bullpen will be dependable this season.
“They take a lot of pride in knowing that they’re a strong bullpen,” Marmol said after the bullpen threw four scoreless innings to finish a 6-2 win over the Crosscutters on June 14. “That’s what you’re going to continue to see the rest of the year. These guys are tough mentally. They understand that once we get to the pen, no one scores, and they’re going to continue doing a good job of that.”
Trey Nielsen earned the win in his professional debut that night, striking out four in two perfect innings. Nielsen led State College with 10 strikeouts to go with a sparkling 1.29 ERA in seven innings entering Saturday night’s game.
Nielsen was a third baseman at the University of Utah, where he also threw six innings in four appearances. He was drafted by the St. Louis Cardinals as a pitcher in the 30th round in 2013, but his professional career was delayed after undergoing Tommy John surgery.
“It is a very strong bullpen,” Nielsen said after his first appearance. “We’re mature, we know what we’re doing out there, which is great. Hopefully it gives our defense some confidence too.”
Fernando Baez has yet to allow a hit in 6 2/3 scoreless innings. He’s allowed one baserunner on a walk. Josh Lucas, who is transitioning from starter to reliever, has two saves in four innings. Kyle Grana has a 1.59 ERA and eight strikeouts in three appearances.
Nick Lomascolo (7.36 ERA), Jacob Booden (8.10 ERA) and Jeff Barkley (22.50 ERA) each had one rough appearance through the first eight games.
Wick continues hot start
Add a broken-bat home run to Spikes right fielder Rowan Wick’s growing list of achievements.
Wick’s sixth blast of the season came Friday night against Jamestown, traveling about 370 feet over the right-field wall after his bat broke into two pieces. That gave him the State College record for home runs in June — just eight games into the season. Mark Hamilton set the previous mark of five in 2006.
Wick started the season with a bang, crushing two home runs in the season opener at Bowman Field in Williamsport. He followed that with another two-homer game in the series against Williamsport before drilling his fifth homer in five games against Batavia on Tuesday.
Going into Saturday night’s game against the Jammers, Wick led the New York-Penn League in home runs in addition to hitting with a .393 average, and he’s also second in RBIs with 10.
Tyler Bray was activated on the Spikes’ roster on Saturday. The right-handed pitcher was drafted in the 26th round out of Louisiana-Monroe earlier this month. Bray threw a simulated game in State College on Wednesday.