When Harrison Bader joined the State College Spikes, manager Johnny Rodriguez described the outfielder as a difference maker.
Bader hit two home runs in his debut and was soon hitting third in the State College lineup.
When he was promoted to Single-A Peoria after seven games, the Spikes suddenly lost their top power threat.
“When you have a Bader leave, just somebody has to step up,” Rodriguez said. “Now remember, you’re losing a guy that can run, power, play defense, can throw — five tools. But what you do is you try to put somebody that has almost equal pop so it doesn’t affect the look.”
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Going into Thursday night, the Spikes used three different players in the No. 3 spot in the lineup in seven games since losing Bader. Jesse Jenner and Danny Martin hit third in three games, while Josh Swirchak filled the void once. Bader was hitting .379 with two homers at the time of his promotion, and he was hitting .333 in his first eight games with Peoria.
Rodriguez saw some power potential in Jenner and moved him to the middle of the lineup first.
Jenner was hitting .195 with one home run and two doubles going into Thursday.
“I try not to worry about where I’m hitting in the lineup,” Jenner said. “I just try and stick to my process and do what I do every day and just try and keep it consistent.”
Martin was hitting .304 with three triples and an inside-the-park home run, and Swirchak was hitting .194 with one double.
Jenner was the last State College player to hit a home run that left the park, a two-run shot in a 7-1 win over Auburn on July 5.
The Spikes led the New York-Penn League in batting average going into Thursday, but they ranked 12th in the 14-team league with seven home runs.
“We don’t have the guys that are going to hit it 900 feet,” Rodriguez said. “Maybe (R.J.) Dennard down the road, he might develop a more consistent swing, hit home runs. Maybe (Orlando) Olivera. Maybe Jenner, he’s a more polished hitter, more of a line-drive guy.”
Pritchard settling in
Mike Pritchard goes into every season with the same goal.
To hit .300.
“I’ve never not hit .300 in my life,” Pritchard said.
Pritchard hit .428 over his last two years of high school. He hit over .300 in each of his four seasons at Nebraska and finished his career with a .339 batting average. He then hit .330 in his first professional season with the Gulf Coast League Cardinals in 2014.
He expected to maintain his success at the plate this season with the Spikes.
But Pritchard got off to an 0 for 13 start and was hitting .186 after going 0 for 3 on July 1. In his last 12 games going into Thursday, Pritchard hit .400 to raise his season average to .289.
He was also leading the New York-Penn League with 18 runs scored.
“I think I finally just accepted where I was at and said let’s go back to work,” Pritchard said. “Do I want to hit .150 this year or do I want to grind it out and by the end of the year be hitting over .300, so I think I’m working towards that goal.”
Evans, Harrison steady out of ’pen
Jacob Evans and Luke Harrison have been bright spots in an inconsistent State College bullpen.
Evans, the lone lefty reliever on the roster, allowed just one run in 10 innings going into Thursday. Harrison had pitched seven scoreless innings.
Rodriguez said Evans has the potential to develop into a closer or starter with his fastball, changeup and curveball.
“He’s going to pitch in the big leagues,” Rodriguez said. “I’ve seen plenty. I’ve seen plenty. He’s got a presence about him. He’s ready to go. He’s now starting to find himself more loose in pro ball. Three-pitch mix. Solid.”
Evans boasted 10 strikeouts and no walks in five relief appearances.. The 6-foot-4 Harrison, a right-hander, recorded six strikeouts and no walks in his four outings.
“He’s a strike thrower,” Rodriguez said. “He’s got some finish to his fastball. He’s got a good angle. He’s a very tall individual.”
Pedro Echemendia (3.38 ERA) made a team-high nine appeances, Kender Villegas (3.45) and Tyler Bray (5.54) each pitched in eight games and Jery Then (6.55) appeared in seven games going into Thursday.