It was the top of the sixth inning Sunday night at Medlar Field, the State College Spikes trailed the Auburn Doubledays 8-3, and Spikes pitcher Andrew Summerville stood on the mound ready to deliver his next pitch.
He had just unloaded a fastball clocked in the upper 80s.
The left-hander delivered his next pitch and … what was that? The pitch had a big arc, and the stadium radar gun read 62 mph.
Meet Andrew Summerville’s curve ball. Good luck trying to hit it.
While so much attention goes to fastballs that reach into the upper 90s or hard breaking balls that cut diagonally, Summerville loves his old-school pitch — a 12-6 curve with a break of better than three feet straight down.
“I think it’s something that keeps the hitters off balance,” Summerville said after Sunday night’s game. “It’s something that a lot of guys don’t throw these days. It’s a little bit of a slower pitch. The game’s tending toward harder sliders and I can feature that too, but I like throwing that (big curve) just because it has so much movement.”
With his fastball hitting as high as 90 mph Sunday, the curve can be startling.
Summerville said the intention is for the pitch to appear initially as a high fastball, then when the ball starts to drop the batter will be off balance and lunging if they want to go after it.
“More often than not they’re going to see it and not even swing at it,” Summerville said. “That’s a good option I guess.”
He said he started working on the pitch when he was about 13 or 14 years old while growing up near Seattle. He learned it from his pitching coach Dave Wainhouse, a former major leaguer who coaches at Seattle University.
What makes Summerville’s curve special is it sets itself apart from other violent breaking balls.
“The way I throw it, it’s not stressful,” the southpaw said. “It’s a fun throw.”
The trick is hitting the strike zone — not always easy with a break that big. Since arriving in State College he’s been working with Spikes pitching coach Darwin Marrero on increasing his strike percentage.
Summerville comes to State College from Stanford, where he accumulated a heavy workload. The 12th-round draft pick logged 74 2/3 innings for the Cardinal, making 13 starts while helping them to the NCAA tournament. He didn’t sign until the end of June, opting to leave college after his junior year.
Because he is still working his way in, he has been used in a “piggyback” with Paul Balestrieri, another 2017 draft pick who tallied more than 50 innings at Cornell this spring. They are the only two pitchers who were starters in college this spring on the Spikes’ roster.
Balestrieri started Sunday and worked 2 2/3 innings, and Summerville followed with three shutout frames, striking out six. In just 4 2/3 innings of relief, he’s already got 10 strikeouts, and he’s just fine in any role needed. At Stanford he was a starter, closer, mop-up guy and everything else in between.
Spikes manager Joe Kruzel said using the tandem is meant to help both men get acquainted to the pros and build up their arms. They may be paired once or twice more, but he hopes to have them split into their own separate roles.
That would mean more chances to see some more knees buckle with that big bending curve.
“It’s going to be exciting to watch him over the rest of the season,” Kruzel said, “and see his growth and development this year.”