Draft prospect Smeltzer strikes out 20 in JUCO semifinals
By Daniel Kramer
GRAND JUNCTION, Colo. -- With elimination on the line, Devin Smeltzer was determined to go wire-to-wire and send San Jacinto (Texas) to the JUCO World Series championship game in Friday's 8-1 semifinal win over Chattahoochee Valley (Ala.).
Smeltzer, the hard-hurling sophomore southpaw, who figures to be selected in the MLB Draft next week, came one strikeout shy of the tournament record of 21 in a game -- but it took him an alarming 140 pitches to do so.
"I honestly thought I had less than that," Smelzter said, while citing his previous high of 126. "Early on, I was all hyped up with the adrenaline and all, but after that I was just worried about locating and making sure my body was intact and getting everything out of my body."
The mechanics by which Smelzter delivers -- almost identical to Madison Bumgarner, using his back to generate most of the power in his release and a streamlined follow-through that induces increased velocity -- were the primary reasons head coach Tom Arrington left Smeltzer in as the late innings pressed on.
Over Bumgarner's six-year career, the three-time World Series champion has averaged 101.3 pitches per start, a higher-than-usual figure, even for the Majors, but he's never needed Tommy John surgery, either.
"You have to look at pitchers and what they are and what their capabilities are. You have to look at what he's done over the course of the year," Arrington said of Smeltzer. "His training is second-to-none. There is not a lot of over-throwing, even with the quality of stuff he has, he paces himself very well. There's not a lot of head-jerk, there's not a lot of muscle-up. So you look at that as well as his training and what he's done, and then you've got to make a call."
Smeltzer has a pregame routine with intensity and solitude that is eerily similar to Zack Greinke. He zones out, conducts a series of extensive stretches on his own, then pulls aside a catch partner from regular warmups for long toss before heading to the bullpen early to warm up.
"He's just a bulldog," first baseman Cade Williams said of Smeltzer. "Whether he's throwing good or bad, if the coach comes out to take the ball, he just says: 'No, I'm not coming out right now. No chance. You're not taking the ball from me.'"
Smeltzer has topped 95 mph this year, but he was rarely throwing his four-seamer Friday. His changeup was "unbelievable," CVCC head coach Adam Thomas said, and his slider had late movement into the lower part of the zone that left batters looking.
"He's as good as advertised," Thomas said. "You've got to give credit to him because he put them on his back tonight, and he carried them and he got them to the championship game. It's hard to get something going against him."
Chattahoochee Valley mustered just two hits against Smeltzer, who threw a no-hitter earlier this year, and their lone run came when the club was already down 4-0, a deficit far too wide given the way Smeltzer was dealing.
Friday's result was almost a mirror image of the night prior, but from the opposite team. CVCC dismissed San Jacinto, 13-3, behind the arm of its standout southpaw, Chase Burks, who threw a complete game over a mercy-rule win in seven innings.
"If you can't pitch, you can't win," Thomas said, while noting that Chase Atkins, Friday's losing pitcher, was arguably the team's best pitcher all year. His season-ending outing consisted of seven earned runs (eight total) on nine hits and a walk with four strikeouts before leaving after 101 pitches in 5 1/3 innings.
San Jacinto will meet for Yavapai for the title for the first time. San Jacinto, playing in its 14th title game, is going for its sixth trophy, while Yavapai seeks its fourth championship in its sixth trip.