The State College Spikes bullpen is suddenly lights out.
State College relievers combined to allow just two runs in 25 1/3 innings during the team’s seven-game winning streak going into Saturday. They had been shaky throughout the season, and State College lost six games that it led going into the sixth inning.
The last loss due to the bullpen’s failures came on Aug. 1.
Tyler Bray started the top of the seventh that night against Lowell. He allowed three runs on three hits and two walks in 1/3 of an inning. The Spikes lost 5-4 and fell two games below .500.
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State College took a 29-24 record into Saturday’s game against West Virginia, thanks to its seven-game winning streak. And Bray has been among the steady contributors out of the bullpen, pitching four perfect innings in two appearances during the streak. In his last three appearances, Bray has gone 6 2/3 scoreless innings with five strikeouts and no walks.
After his rough appearance Aug. 1, he allowed one run in one inning against Batavia to see his ERA rise to 7.08. He’s cut it to 5.33.
Spikes manager Johnny Rodriguez said Bray made mechanical adjustments, slowing his body down to make his sidearm delivery more effective.
“Lefties and righties, they were not having good looks,” Rodriguez said after Bray threw two scoreless innings Monday against Mahoning Valley.
The improved performance of the bullpen has been crucial to State College’s run.
“Our bullpen is really starting to come around,” outfielder Mike Pritchard said. “We’re going to need them to stay strong through the end. … I think they’re starting to get more defined roles. You got (Pedro) Echemendia, who’s been nails the last two or three times he comes out.”
Echemendia has three saves during the seven-game win streak. He’s pitched 11 2/3 scoreless innings and recorded six saves in his last eight appearances. He was tied for the New York-Penn League lead with 18 appearances going into Saturday and ranked fourth in the league with eight saves.
“He’s not rattled,” Rodriguez said. “He’s been doing a great job. We really don’t have a closer — we probably close by committee — but he’s about as close as we have for a closer just his mentality, the way he goes about it.”
Olivera providing power
Orlando Olivera is the oldest player on the Spikes’ roster and the only player who was born in 1990.
The 24-year-old has put together a solid first season in professional baseball, earning a promotion from the Gulf Coast League Cardinals to State College, where he’s provided much-needed power in the middle of the lineup. Olivera was hitting .382 with three home runs and 12 RBIs in his last 10 games going into Saturday, improving his average to .352.
“I’m just trying to prove myself, prove to everybody else that I can play this game,” Olivera said.
Olivera was the St. Louis Cardinals’ 38th-round in this year’s MLB Draft, a player Rodriguez said “nobody gave hope.”
He’s filled a void left by the promotion of St. Louis’ third-round pick Harrison Bader, who hit two homers in seven games for State College.
Olivera has impressed with his bat, hitting a team-high four homers and driving in 17 runs in 21 games for the Spikes.
“He gets up there, you believe something good’s going to happen,” Rodriguez said.
Jhohan Acevedo has also been hot, hitting .393 in his last 10 games to raise his season average to .296 going into Saturday.
Wild card picture
Going into Monday, there is a three-way tie for first place in the wild card standings with seven teams within 2 1/2 games.
That tight 10-team race now has two frontrunners with more separation. State College went into Saturday with a half game lead over Lowell, thanks to the Spikes’ seven-game win streak. Aberdeen and Connecticut were tied for third, sitting three games back. And West Virginia was 3 1/2 games behind the Spikes.
State College had 23 games remaining this season, with eight against Pinckney Division leader Williamsport. The Crosscutters owned a league-best 35-19 record and held a 5 1/2 game lead over State College in the division going into Saturday.