Kalamazoo, Mich. — Ryan Smoyer was unfazed. Nothing could prevent him from doing his job on the mound, whether it be the five-game skid the Kalamazoo Growlers were on entering the game or the power-packed Madison Mallards lineup that ranked third in the league in home runs coming into the game.
He climbed the mound and shoved, just as he has done for his last five starts. The right-hander from Notre Dame threw eight innings, the longest outing from a Growlers starter in 2014, and allowed just two hits and a run to lead Kalamazoo to a 4-1 win on Sunday at Homer Stryker Field.
"It's just a mindset: Go out there and give the team everything you have," Smoyer said. "And I think that's what we've trying to do all season. With guys coming out, though, it's tough. But being a pitcher, you only pitch every six days, so when it's your turn, you've just got to go out there with the mindset that you're going to get the job done."
For Smoyer, it was the same formula as ever: working fast, throwing lots of strikes on a downward plane, mixing a curveball and changeup in when necessary. The outs came mostly from playable grounders and flyouts, but Smoyer also had five whiffs, including one of Joe Dudek (North Carolina) where he worked his way back from a 3-0 hole and froze the Tar Heel on an outside breaking ball. The Mallards have a number of power bats — Pete Alonso (Florida) basically swung with his forearms and still hit a ball to the warning track in the fourth — but that didn't dissuade Smoyer from his pitch-to-contact approach.
"Coming from the ACC, you see that on a regular basis, but with those guys, you've just got to know you can't miss, because they'll make you pay for it," Smoyer said. "When you're throwing offspeed, you've got to make sure it's low in the zone and it's crisp, and for the most part, it was."
Smoyer's mainly pitches off a fastball, changeup and curveball, but he has been working on a slider lately, one with more side-to-side movement to set it apart from the curve. He had that pitch working against the Mallards, so hitters were often helpless.
"If you're a three-pitch pitcher and get all three over, you're good," Growlers manager Joe Carbone said. "If you're a four-pitch pitcher (and) get all four over, you're outstanding."
The Growlers' bats, dormant during their two games against the Chinooks, woke up against Mallards starter A.J. Bogucki (North Carolina). Karl Sorensen (St. Cloud State) doubled to lead off the second, and Nick Yarnall (Pittsburgh) drove him home with a single up the middle. After Brett Sunde (Western Michigan) singled and moved Yarnall up to third, Jalen Phillips (Duke) grounded into a 6-4-3 double play that scored Yarnall.
Consecutive doubles from Yarnall and Sunde gave the Growlers another run in the fourth, and Ryan Spaulding (Ball State) doubled to right-center to drive Justin Fletcher (Northern Illinois home in the seventh.
Smoyer exited after eight innings, and Shane Bryant came in to retire the Mallards 1-2-3 in the ninth and get the save. The Growlers finish up their series with the Mallards on Monday at 7:05. It's Bark at the Park Night, where fans can bring their dogs to the ballpark. After that, Kalamazoo hits the road for two-game series' against the Green Bay Bullfrogs, Waterloo Bucks and Rochester Honkers.
The Kalamazoo Growlers are a member of the finest developmental league for elite college baseball players, the Northwoods League. Playing its 21st season of summer collegiate baseball, the Northwoods League is the largest organized baseball league in the world with 18 teams, drawing significantly more fans, in a friendly ballpark experience, than any league of its kind. A valuable training ground for coaches, umpires and front office staff, more than 115 Northwoods League players have advanced to Major League Baseball, including Cy Young Award winner Max Scherzer (DET) and MLB All-Stars Chris Sale (CWS), Jordan Zimmermann (WAS), Curtis Granderson (NYM), Allen Craig (STL) and Ben Zobrist (TB). All league games are viewable live via the Northwoods League YouTube channel. For more information, visit http://www.growlersbaseball.com.