#STINGDAILY: From The Stretch

June 18, 2012

By Jon Cooper
Sting Daily

There were quite a few Georgia Tech Baseball players that didn’t want the thrill-ride better known as the 2012 season to end.

Alex Cruz was one of them.

In 2012, the 19-year-old sophomore — he turns 20 on July 29 — went through a completely unpredictable and extremely rewarding series of twists and turns.

“At first, especially coming into Tech as a position player, I didn’t picture myself throwing this much or throwing this well,” said Cruz, who was 8-3, with two saves and a 1.83 ERA (15 earned runs in 73 2/3 innings). “But I’m really glad things have gone the way they have and everything has panned out for us.”

Head Coach Danny Hall credited Cruz’s ability to navigate the twists and turns during the regular season for Georgia Tech’s ability to create the “title” wave it did in the postseason.

“We’d have been dead in the water if Alex wouldn’t have stepped in and pitched as well as he did,” said Hall. “He saved us.”

It was a save not many could have seen coming.

Cruz began the year as a back-up infielder, who was expected to battle for playing time at third base. But the play of Chase Butler, then Sam Dove and mounting injuries to the pitching staff opened the door, and he finished as a prized arm out of the bullpen.

The Woodstock, Ga., product, who attended Blessed Trinity Catholic High School, started by getting a look as a long reliever. The more Hall saw how Cruz was a riddle to opposing hitters — he allowed one earned run over his first seven appearances, covering nine innings — the more Cruz became the answer Hall was looking for. He soon became a rubber-armed, multi-inning guy, who could close if necessary.

For the season, Cruz made 30 appearances (29 in relief), 17 of them multi-inning appearances, with 10 of those going at least three innings.

He was at his best during the postseason, as in three appearances in the ACC Tournament and the NCAA Regional, he allowed one run and nine hits over 12 innings.

In the ACCs, he threw a pair of three-inning gems, allowing one run and four hits in saving Tech’s win over Florida State, then helped close out Clemson.

Nothing rattled Cruz, whether he was closing out Georgia at Turner Field, shutting down Virginia in Charlottesville over 5 2/3 innings, which allowed the Jackets to storm back and steal an extra-inning win, or shut down the top-ranked Seminoles.

“I’ve definitely learned how to battle some adversity throughout the year,” he said. “Just being able to come in and get my mind focused and to concentrate on what we have one pitch at a time.”

Once the stakes were raised in the NCAA Gainesville Regional, Cruz raised his game. Hall called upon him to make his first start of his career against College of Charleston.

Just for fun, it was an elimination game.

He responded as he had all year.

He shut down the Cougars, throwing six shutout innings, and limiting them to two hits, as Tech held off Charleston, 8-3.

Having proved he could effectively spot-start with no margin for error, Cruz will now get the chance to work on stretching out his arm during the summer in the Valley Baseball League in the Shenandoah Valley, Virginia.

“I’ll have the opportunity to build myself up to throw more pitches, more innings, maybe even as a starter, something along those lines,” said Cruz, who will be teaming with fellow Jackets Charles Sheffield, A.J. Murray and Thomas Smith, with the Harrisonburg Turks.

In his two starts with the Turks, Cruz pitched to a 9.67 ERA (nine earned runs in 9 2/3 innings), but the two starts were like night and day. In his first appearance, he allowed six runs (all earned) on 10 hits in 3 1/3 innings. It was his first time pitching in seven days since his masterful start against in Gainesville.

His following start, five days later was more Cruz-like, as he surrendered three runs (two earned) on six hits over 6 1/3 innings week. He’ll likely pitch again today, or Thursday.

Cruz is enjoying starting but is leaving his options open as far as relieving or starting come next season for Georgia Tech.

“Where ever Coach Hall would like me to pitch I’m more than open to try and prepare myself for it next year,” he said. “If he wants me to start that’s what I’ll do. I’ll learn to extend myself, take better care and rest myself and prepare to be a starter. If I have to close, I’ll keep doing that.”

Regardless, one thing Cruz knows he’ll need to keep doing is taking care of his arm, something that he got used to doing for the first time in 2012.

“I’d never really been used to having to take so much care of my arm and doing the little things, where it comes to extra workouts, extra ice, extra treatment,” he said. “So that was definitely a big adjustment I had to make throughout the year and just learning to deal with some regular types of tightness and soreness. It wasn’t too tough but it was a learning process.”

He has had an easier time learning where his future lies.

“I’ve come to the realization that I’m pretty much a pitcher now.”

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