His back to home plate, Mitch Gueller was turned to watch the baseball travel through the twilight sky toward left field. When the flare off the bat of Staten Island's Jose Rosario fell to the grass, the Williamsport right-hander slapped his pitching hand against his glove and began to trot to his spot to back up a throw from the outfield.
He had made what he thought was a good pitch in the fourth inning at Bowman Field on Saturday night. Rosario fought it off, though, and his single scored the Yankees' second run of the inning.
Gueller had been just a pitch away from getting out of the inning unscathed after quickly retiring the first two batters. But then he left a change-up over the middle of the plate. And then he missed his spot again. And then Rosario fought off the first pitch he saw.
Williamsport shortstop Malquin Canelo tags Derek Toadvine of Staten Island out at second base on a first-inning steal attempt Saturday at Bowman Field.
Quickly, a pretty good outing for Gueller snowballed into another frustrating effort. He surrendered three runs in his five innings of work last night and it was enough for Staten Island to take the second game of the three-game series, 3-0. The Crosscutters and Yankees play the rubber match today at 5:05 p.m.
Gueller stood next to his locker last night trying to find the balance between being frustrated with another outing he thought could have been better, but still harping on the positives of getting through five innings with minimal damage. The 2012 supplemental first-round pick expects more from himself than three runs in five innings, but insisted Saturday's outing wasn't terrible.
"I know I can do better than that, but I wasn't too upset," said Gueller, who fell to 3-5 with a 5.59 ERA. "I'm not as frustrated with this outing because it was so close to being good."
He completed five innings for the first time since July 6 last night. And while he had the fastball command he wanted, he struggled again with command of his breaking ball and change-up. The off-speed command has been what's been troubling for him most of the season.
He walked two batters last night and hit another, but threw first-pitch strikes to just 13 of the 23 batters he faced. Gueller, at times, looks like he's trying to guide the ball to the plate with his off-speed pitches instead of just throwing it.
"I'm trying to be too fine," Gueller said. "I'm just looking for most consistency in my off-speed stuff. I need to throw it and trust that it's going to be there. It's good in my side work and in my bullpens. Once I got in to a game, I want to get it over for a strike and I end up aiming it."
Gueller's fastball last night varied between 86 and 90 mph, down from the 92-93 mph fastball he's had at other times this year. And with the inconsistency in his off-speed pitches, he struggled to put away hitters.
He was ahead 1-2 in the second inning against Rosario (1 for 4, 2 RBIs) with runners on second and third, but couldn't get the strikeout he needed. Instead Rosario grounded into a fielder's choice allowing the first run of the game to score.
In the fourth inning he recorded two outs on three pitches to start the inning, but then gave up a double to right-center on a 1-1 pitch, a double to left-center on a 1-1 pitch, and the bloop RBI single by Rosario on the first pitch.
"I'm getting ahead of guys, but with the inconsistency in my off-speed I can't get that put-away pitch," Gueller said. "It's all about consistency with my off-speed, really. If it's there when I get ahead of guys, then I stay ahead of guys."
"For me, if he has a problem throwing a breaking pitch for a strike, he shouldn't try to throw a breaking pitch for a strike on the first pitch," Williamsport manager Nelson Prada said. "When you're ahead, you'll be more successful. He gets behind in the count too often. Whether he's using a fastball or a breaking pitch, I think he has to find a way to get ahead in the count. Find which pitch he has better command of and maybe try to use that more often."
Gueller walked away from the outing last night in a positive frame of mind because he continues to progress in a positive direction in his most recent three outings. After failing to record an out in a July 18 start against Hudson Valley, Gueller has been more effective in his outings.
He finished four innings of a suspended game against Auburn, giving the Cutters a chance to win. He struggled for one of his four innings in a loss to Mahoning Valley, and he kept the Cutters in the game last night despite not pitching how he believes he's capable.
For the 19-year old Washington native, it's steps in the right direction.
"It really comes down to making pitches," Gueller said. "I just need to go out and do that. This wasn't the greatest outing, but it's better than that other one a couple weeks ago. I just have to continue to make strides and improve on this one."
Three Staten Island pitchers combined to toss a six-hit shutout at a Williamsport offense which has been scorching hot during its current six-game homestand. David Palladino, Kelvin Castro and Nick Rumbelow combined to strike out 12 Williamsport hitters.
Williamsport put two runners on base in just one inning, the eighth, when Andrew Knapp and Zach Green each singled with two outs. But Dylan Cozens popped out in foul territory to end the threat.
Cutters outfielder Samuel Hiciano saw his home run streak end at three games. He hit a drive off Castro which was just foul, but had home run distance in the seventh inning.
"Both their first two pitchers threw a breaking pitch over for strikes," Prada said. "It's a big problem when you face a guy who can throw a breaking pitch for a strike because he can throw one to waster it, too. Castro threw a lot of breaking pitches behind in the count for strikes. They pitched us very good."