Casey Grayson threw his right hand out in disgust as he stepped out of the batter’s box. The State College first baseman didn’t agree with the called strike that put him in a 1-2 hole with the bases loaded and no outs in the bottom of the fifth inning.
The Spikes trailed by four runs after a five-run fourth inning by West Virginia, but they could get back in the game with a big inning of their own.
Grayson stepped back in the box and went down swinging at a high fastball, flipping his bat in the air and catching it in frustration. The Spikes came up empty after Leobaldo Pina grounded into an inning-ending double play in the following at bat.
“You’re in that situation, OK boom, that was a bad call,” Spikes manager Johnny Rodriguez said of Grayson’s at bat. “But I got to be ready for my next pitch. He wasn’t. He was gonna swing at whatever was coming after that.”
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State College couldn’t put together a comeback and fell 7-1 to the Black Bears on Thursday night at Medlar Field at Lubrano Park. Spikes starting pitcher Jorge Rodriguez allowed five runs on five hits in 3 2/3 innings to take the loss. Rodriguez also walked five and struck out two.
West Virginia’s Andy Otamendi pitched 2 1/3 scoreless innings of relief to earn the win. Black Bears shortstop Kevin Newman, the Pittsburgh Pirates’ first-round pick in the 2015 MLB Draft, started at shortstop but left the game in the bottom of the first inning.
Newman fouled a pitch off his foot before flying out to center field in the top of the first. He then fielded an infield single up the middle and showed a limp on a fly ball to left field for the second out of the bottom half.
West Virginia manager Wyatt Toregas replaced him with Erik Forgione.
“In that situation, I just felt it was best for him to get him out of that game before we caused any more damage to it,” Toregas said.
Toregas said Newman is day-to-day with the injury and probably won’t play Friday in the series finale.
Rodriguez gave up four walks in the first three innings, but he kept West Virginia off the board.
“If I had a major league bullpen, he’s out of there in the second inning,” Rodriguez said. “His emotions were bad, mound presence was bad, everything was bothering him — up in the zone. I was just trying to stretch him to see how far we could go, but I knew he didn’t have it since the first inning.”
Spikes catcher Jesse Jenner neutralized two walks by catching Mitchell Tolman trying to steal second twice. Jenner gunned down three steal attempts by the Black Bears.
Grayson’s one-run single gave the Spikes (5-8) the lead in the bottom of the third inning and extended his on-base streak to 13 games.
But the Black Bears (6-7) broke through against Rodriguez in the top of the fourth, scoring five runs to take the lead for good.
West Virginia’s Logan Hill drew a one-out walk and Albert Baur singled through the right side of the infield to start the inning. After Casey Hughston popped out to third, Daniel Arribas lined a single into the right-center field gap to score Hill and tie it 1-1.
Ulises Montilla then poked a single into right field to give the Black Bears a 2-1 lead. Christian Kelley ended Rodriguez’s night when he sent the seventh pitch of his at bat into the right-center gap for a two-run double.
“I walked a minefield with him today,” Rodriguez said.
Spikes right-hander Max Almonte entered in relief and allowed a one-run single to Tolman. The Black Bears took a commanding 5-1 lead.
The Spikes had a chance to cut into the deficit when they loaded the bases with no outs in the fifth. But Grayson struck out and Pina grounded into a double play to end the inning.
Rodriguez said Grayson’s reaction to the umpire can serve as a teachable moment for his players in a loss filled with them.
“When you lose a game that your pitcher doesn’t have it,” Rodriguez said, “it’s a teaching tool for the pitcher, the defense and for the offense. And that’s how we get better.”
Notes: The Spikes and Black Bears finish their series at 7:05 p.m. Friday. Dailyn Martinez (1-1, 5.23 ERA) will be on the mound for State College, while Johnathan Brubaker (0-2, 9.45) is set to start for West Virginia. … Rodriguez said Danny Martin is day-to-day with a groin injury and Ronnierd Garcia underwent surgery after suffering an injury Tuesday night.