State College Spikes manager Johnny Rodriguez watched as his first reliever ran into trouble immediately.
State College’s Tyler Bray allowed three straight singles, resulting in a run for the Auburn Doubledays. Rodriguez could live with that run, but he couldn’t live with Bray hitting Auburn’s Randy Encarnacion on an 0-2 count with one out.
The hit batter loaded the bases. A two-out walk allowed another run to score and cut the Spikes’ lead to one.
Bray’s struggles were just the start of a brutal night for the Spikes’ bullpen. Bray, Pedro Echemendia and Jery Then combined to allow eight runs in a 9-5 loss to Auburn on Tuesday night at Medlar Field at Lubrano Park.
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“We did not pitch well out of the bullpen,” Rodriguez said. “Bottom line.”
Bray took the loss, allowing four runs on three hits in 2/3 of an inning. Echemendia gave up one run on three hits in 2 1/3 innings, and Then allowed three runs and walked three in the final inning.
It spoiled a strong start by Landon Beck. Beck went five innings, allowing one run (zero earned) and two hits. He also struck out four.
Rodriguez put the loss on his three relievers.
“We did everything right leading to when we changed pitchers,” Rodriguez said.
State College took a 3-0 lead after Leobaldo Pina’s RBI groundout and Ronnierd Garcia’s two-run double in the third inning.
Auburn got on the board on an RBI double by Kelvin Gutierrez in the top of the fifth, and State College answered with a run on a Casey Grayson single in the bottom half to push its lead to 4-1.
Bray started the sixth for the Spikes and allowed three straight hits, including an RBI single by Matthew Page. After getting a chopper back to the mound, Bray had Encarnacion in an 0-2 count.
But he hit him to load the bases and later walked Gutierrez to allow Auburn’s third run to score. That was the end of Bray’s night, and Auburn took the lead for good on Jorge Tillero’s two-run single to left field off Echemendia.
“Hitting the guy is what bothered me the most,” Rodriguez said. “We had him down 0-2, go ahead and hits him, that’s what hurts the most because look, hey, they hit it in the gap, they score all three runs, we’re OK with it. Too many walks for the relieving corps.”
Then issued three walks and allowed three runs in the top of the ninth, giving Auburn a four-run cushion for the bottom half.
Auburn’s Joey Webb earned the win, pitching two innings and allowing one run on two hits.
Auburn’s Mariano Rivera Jr., the son of the New York Yankees legend Mariano Rivera, pitched two scoreless innings of relief in his professional debut Tuesday night. The Iona College product, who struck out four, was selected in the fourth round of this year’s MLB Draft by the Washington Nationals.
Rivera Jr. ran into trouble in the bottom of the seventh when he allowed consecutive singles to Danny Martin and Mike Pritchard.
But he got three straight strikeouts to end the threat.
The Spikes finished 3 for 17 with runners in scoring position. They managed just one run in the final four innings.
But to Rodriguez, the loss came down to the bullpen’s inability to protect a three-run lead.
“Honestly it’s starting to look like our relievers are not doing it,” Rodriguez said. “And eventually with the draft guys getting back in there, there probably will be some changes. Because they have to show me.”
Notes: State College finishes its series with Auburn at 7:05 p.m. Wednesday. Ian McKinney is set to start for the Spikes, while McKenzie Mills will be on the mound for Auburn. McKinney went seven innings and allowed three runs in a loss to Williamsport in the season opener. … The Spikes then go on a six-game road trip, starting with three games against Mahoning Valley and ending with three games against Staten Island.