STATE COLLEGE - Jodaneli Carvajal wasn't supposed to be hitting leadoff for State College on Tuesday night. In fact, he was penciled into the nine-hole just like he was for Monday's season opener in the Spikes' initial lineup.
Things changed quickly during batting practice last night. The Spikes' leadoff hitter Alex Fuselier ran into Williamsport manager Andy Tracy while shagging fly balls during batting practice and suffered a concussion. Carvajal was moved to the leadoff spot where he recorded two hits, scored three runs and drove in another as State College won its home opener for the first time in team history, 5-2, over the Crosscutters.
State College manager Dave Turgeon said Fuselier failed every concussion test the team gave him, and less than an hour before the first pitch he had to make a change to his lineup. Carvajal, a 20-year old Dominican, is still learning about the fundamentals of what it takes to be a top-of-the-order hitter, but was forced into the situation last night.
He singled and scored a run in the first inning. He led off a two-run sixth inning with a walk, and he slapped an RBI triple into the right-field corner in his final at-bat.
"Speed kills, doesn't it?" Turgeon said. "I think it's a role for him that he's going to have to grow in to. Speed doesn't always mean he needs to be in the leadoff spot. But I think he's a guy who can project in the one or two-hole or the nine-hole at the major-league level."
Carvajal brought some speed to the top of the Spikes lineup that created a little bit of havoc last night, not unlike what Roman Quinn was able to do for the Crosscutters in Monday's season opener. Carvajal opened the game with a two-strike single to right field off Williamsport starter Ulises Joaquin. He went first-to-third on Raul Fortunado's single, and scored when the ball got away from second baseman Tyler Greene on a stolen base by Fortunado.
Carvajal went first-to-third again after leading off the sixth inning with a walk and scored on Ryan Hornback's infield single. In the seventh, he turned a hit into the right-field corner into an RBI triple before scoring on a single by Fortunado.
"Speed puts some pressure on the defense and maybe gets the pitcher rushing to the plate a little bit," Turgeon said. "Maybe it gets the hitters some extra fastballs because when they're worried about a guy running, young catchers, especially, will get a little fastball happy. You look at Williamsport and they have two quick guys at the top of the order and when we keep them off the bases, it's a different club. Carvy has some speed and is an exciting guy to watch. I think he's going to do a nice job there."
While Carvajal took care of the offense, four State College pitchers took care of the Williamsport offense. Those four relievers threw five shutout innings, striking out six and allowing just four hits.
Chris Serritella, Larry Greene and Mitch Walding all picked up their first professional hits last night. Greene's was a laser of an RBI double to center field that gave Williamsport a 2-1 lead in the third inning.
But after that third inning, Williamsport didn't have a batter reach second base until the ninth inning when Quinn and Diego Gonzalez singled with two outs. Brian Pointer grounded out to the mound as the tying run in the ninth.
"I don't know what it was, but we did the best we could," Greene said of the offensive struggles. "We'll pick it up tomorrow."
"It was a tough night. I thought we could have put the ball in play a little more," Cutters manager Andy Tracy said. "We needed a couple big hits, but that's the game of baseball. All I can ask is to get the tying run to the play and go from there."
Joaquin pitched five stellar innings in his first start for Williamsport, hitting 92 mph on the radar gun with his fastball. He allowed just three hits and one unearned run. Joaquin also struck out three.
But where State College found some stability in their bullpen, the Cutters struggled with their. Jim Birmingham lasted just 1/3 of a inning, walking two, hitting another and surrendering two hits and two runs. Birmingham, a tall left-hander, is back with Williamsport after posting a 1.37 ERA in 14 appearances last year with the Cutters.
Birmingham struggled in nine appearances in Lakewood this year, posting an ERA over 10, and walking more than he struck out. He loaded the bases in the sixth inning with one out last night before getting a strike out. Hornback then reached on an infield single on a Baltimore chop to third which Mitch Walding then threw past Serritella at first allowing a second run to score.
After Birmingham walked the next batter, he was pulled. Of his 28 pitches, just 12 were strikes.
"We haven't seen him much, but the kid's got a good arm, he has a track record of being good," Tracy said of Birmingham. "We're going to put him out there as much as we can until he gets successful."