The State College Spikes’ bullpen has been a glaring weakness this season.
And the relievers doomed the Spikes again in a 5-4 loss to the Lowell Spinners on Saturday night at Medlar Field at Lubrano Park. Tyler Bray allowed three runs, three hits and two walks in 1/3 of an inning, and Kevin Alexander allowed one run on two hits in 2 2/3 innings to take the loss.
Bray took the mound with a three-run lead in the seventh inning, looking to find his confidence after allowing four runs, four hits and four walks in three innings over his previous two appearances. The right-hander with the sidearm delivery jogged off the field with one out and the bases loaded, still searching for confidence after allowing Lowell to get back into the game.
The Spinners tied the game that inning and scored what proved to be the game-winning run in the eighth after Josh Ockimey led off with a triple and scored on Mitch Gunsolus’ single.
“We can’t keep letting leads slip away,” Spikes manager Johnny Rodriguez said.
It was the second straight night State College led going into the seventh inning only to watch that lead disappear in a loss. On Saturday, the team wasted a strong effort by Spikes starting pitcher Carson Cross, who pitched a season-high six innings, allowing one run on three hits. The right-hander struck out six and walked one. And it wasted an early lead built on a pair of triples by Jhohan Acevedo, who finished 2 for 3, scored a run and drove in three runs.
Acevedo gave the Spikes a 3-0 lead after the first inning.
Craig Aikin, Mike Pritchard and Casey Grayson each drew walks and scored on Acevedo’s triple down the right field line in the first inning. Acevedo then tripled again with two outs in the third inning, this time to right-center field. He scored on Cole Lankford’s single through the right side of the infield to give the Spikes a 4-0 lead.
“He’s an energy guy, a guy who gets clutch hits who’s maturing,” Rodriguez said of Acevedo. “He’s very confident right now.”
Lowell got on the board in the fourth inning on Ockimey’s RBI triple.
It was the lone run allowed by Cross. The Spikes starting pitcher lasted four innings in each of his three previous starts as he worked on a limited pitch count. He then built from 66 pitches in his last start one week ago to 83 against Lowell on Saturday.
Cross has now allowed three earned runs in his last 21 innings.
“We’re not probably going to take him like the other guys to 90, 95 (pitches),” Rodriguez said, pointing to Cross’ heavy workload at the University of Connecticut, where he threw 106 innings in 15 starts.
Bray couldn’t protect the lead when he entered in the seventh.
He allowed a leadoff double to Ockimey, who finished 4 for 4 with two triples and a double. A walk and a perfect bunt single by Jhon Nunez loaded the bases with no outs. Brandon Magee singled and Luis Alexander Basabe grounded out to drive in two runs. Bray then walked Jeremy Rivera to reload the bases with one out and State College hanging on to a 4-3 lead.
It marked the end of Bray’s outing as Rodriguez turned to Alexander to try to get out of the jam. Alexander allowed a sacrifice fly to Chad De La Guerra to tie it before getting a groundout to end the inning.
Bray now has a 6.98 ERA in 12 appearances this season.
“He’s having trouble,” Rodriguez said. “We’re going to change some things from the mechanical side and tell him that we trust him. We’ll send him back out there.”
The Spikes had a chance to tie it in the bottom of the eighth.
Grayson led off with a single, advanced to second on a sacrifice bunt and moved to third on a single by Lankford. But Jose Godoy struck out and R.J. Dennard popped out.
“We couldn’t get the big hit, couldn’t get him in from third (with) one out, which has always been another one of our Achilles’ heels,” Rodriguez said. “We’ve had two — bullpen, runners at third with one out. We have not been good, and that’s not a good formula to win ballgames if you can’t hold leads and you can’t get guys in from third base with one out.”
The Spikes and Lowell finish their series at 6:05 p.m. Sunday. Ian McKinney (3-2, 2.43 ERA) will be on the mound for State College, while Javier Rodriguez (0-2, 5.40) will start for Lowell.