During Tyler Bray’s junior year at Louisiana-Monroe, the coaching staff told him he probably wouldn’t be pitching for the Warhawks anymore.
Bray was presented with one option to save his pitching career — throw sidearm.
He embraced the change and worked with his coaches to learn how to develop a new throwing motion.
“I worked really hard at it, and it paid off,” Bray said. “Now, it’s the best thing that happened to me.”
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The right-hander became one of the Spikes’ top relievers in the last month, allowing two earned runs in his last 16 2/3 innings spanning nine appearances.
Bray was promoted to Single-A Peoria along with reliever Jacob Booden on Saturday. The Spikes’ game against Auburn at Falcon Park on Saturday was postponed due to rain. The teams will play a doubleheader Sunday starting at 1 p.m.
Bray went 1-2 with a 2.96 ERA in 17 appearances for State College. Booden was 1-2 with a 3.45 ERA in 21 appearances. He allowed eight earned runs — giving up at least one run in six straight outings from July 17 to Aug. 2 — before throwing 5 1/3 scoreless innings in his last three trips to the mound.
Kender Villegas, a right-hander who went 1-2 with a 3.66 ERA for Rookie-level Johnson City, was promoted to State College.
Bray was drafted by the St. Louis Cardinals in the 26th round in June after going 8-5 with eight saves and a 3.36 ERA as a senior at Louisiana-Monroe. He was one of 14 pitchers in the country to lead his team in both wins and saves.
Bray endured a rocky start with the Spikes. After allowing one run in 1/3 of an inning against Staten Island on July 13, his ERA was 5.91.
But Bray adjusted with the help of his teammates and pitching coach Dernier Orozco.
“You can’t just go out there and pitch anymore,” Bray said earlier this month. “You have to have a game plan and study the hitters and that’s what Orozco always preaches — know the lineup, know who you’re facing, what kind of team are they, each hitter break them down.
“That’s something I had to learn and early on they were hitting me hard because I wasn’t doing the right things.”
Bray’s weakness was against lefties at the plate. He had a 4.09 ERA against left-handed hitters, who owned a .268 batting average against him.
“He’s pitching with confidence,” Spikes manager Oliver Marmol said Thursday after Bray pitched two scoreless innings against Mahoning Valley. “He really is. He’s got a feel for all his pitches right now. He’s moving it in and out. He’s learning how to get lefties out as well, so it’s been a positive for him.”
Spikes in title hunt again
While he was in State College to announce the two-year extension of the Spikes’ affiliation with St. Louis, Cardinals general manager John Mozeliak offered insight into the organization’s philosophy for its managers in the farm system.
Marmol fits the type of leader the Cardinals want to introduce players to professional baseball.
“We want strong managers down at this level,” Mozeliak said. “Because not only from just a pure talent issue, but it’s also about giving these players the experience and the exposure to what they’re going to see at higher levels.
“And somebody like Oli just does a great job of that transition. So we look at sort of our short-season clubs and making sure that all those managers are really strong in the sense of they understand development, but they also understand that nurturing side.”
After leading the Spikes to the Pinckney Division title last season, he has them in position to repeat. State College was in first place with a 7-game lead over Jamestown going into Saturday night.
Marmol deflects credit for the success to hitting coach Ramon “Smokey” Ortiz and Orozco.
“I got a great coaching staff,” Marmol said. “I let them do their job and they prepare these guys really well. Smokey does a great job with the hitters, that’s why we’re at the top of the league when it comes to hitting. Dernier does a great job with the pitchers, that’s why we’re at the top of the league with pitching.
“Keeping these guys just focused is my job, and I think as a staff we’ve done a nice job of that.”
Spikes gearing up for postseason
After State College suffered its sixth straight loss Tuesday, Nick Thompson looked toward the New York-Penn League playoffs.
He knew the Spikes held a comfortable lead in the division standings and said the team simply had to maintain that lead and get to the playoffs.
From there, Thompson said it’s all about winning four games to take the New York-Penn League championship. He repeated that mentality after the Spikes’ second straight win following the slide.
“Two games is a start, but we’re not looking for two games,” Thompson said Thursday. “We’re looking to finish this thing strong and make the playoffs and then win four games.”
The playoffs feature the three division champions and the team outside of those three with the best record. The semifinals and championship are both best-of-three series.