May 3, 2014
By Matt Winkeljohn
The Good Word
Were a film maker putting together a documentary about this odd baseball season, Georgia Tech’s 3-1 win over Virginia Tech Saturday would not make the director’s cut – unless junior Devin Stanton role was taken into consideration.
The win itself? Not so strange.
The good – Georgia Tech moved to 22-9 at home and 10-4 in ACC action at Russ Chandler Stadium. The bad – Virginia Tech fell to 18-27, 7-19 ACC. From a big-picture view, the Jackets are supposed to win this series and with consecutive victories they have.
There are, however, some devilish details that need mentioning.
Stanton jumped to 4-3 after allowing one run on six hits over seven innings. The record part is borderline criminal.
The former reliever has been fairly nasty as a converted starter late only to be saddled with a pair of losses over his previous four starts while allowing just three runs in that time. His ERA in eight starts is 2.17.
That defines tough luck. Try taking that knowledge to the mound.
“I think it’s natural, human nature for those thoughts [about lack of run support] to creep in, but immediately I get past that as fast as I can,” Stanton said. “It shouldn’t affect what we do on the defensive side, the way I pitch. It doesn’t change our game plan.”
That sounded kind of funny, really, because the thought of anything being planned in Tech’s roller coaster of a season doesn’t jive.
The Jackets had four freshmen in Saturday’s lineup, and Stanton wasn’t a starter when the season began.
Only because Friday and Saturday starters Jonathan King (shoulder) and Cole Pitts (Tommy John surgery) were lost to injury in the first ACC series of the season against Wake Forest, has the redshirt junior from Wesleyan become a front liner.
Jeez, talk about backing into a role and nailing it.
Stanton allowed one earned run against the Hokies while walking two and striking out five. His overall ERA sank to 2.38 after he threw a whopping 128 pitches in part because relievers Dusty Isaacs (71 pitches thrown in Friday’s 7-6 11-inning win) and Jonathan Roberts (illness) were not available.
Sam Clay pitched the final two scoreless innings Saturday for his fifth save.
The way Stanton’s hook was falling off the table in the early innings under a remarkable azure sky, he looked downright ridiculous — or at least most of the Hokies did as they flailed.
“Early in the game, my curveball was [working best]; I was able to back-foot it a few times. Later, my changeup . . . it wasn’t a swing-and-miss pitch, but they were beating it into the ground. I try to stay out of fastball counts; my fastball is not going to over-power anybody.”
Georgia Tech (28-19, 14-12 ACC) has been anything but consistent, which we’ll get to, and rarely over-powering.
Yet there’s no way to sell short the importance of Stanton and fellow lefty Ben Parr rolling out of the bullpen to become the Saturday and Sunday starters.
Asked about this, head coach Danny Hall suggested that Stanton, “Saved us, obviously. He started the year just as another lefty in our bullpen, and has taken on a prominent role. He’s a leader, and always has been even when he was hurt.”
The Jackets trailed until sophomore leftfielder A.J. Murray hit his fourth home run in the fourth inning.
Georgia Tech took the lead in the sixth soon after second baseman Mott Hyde singled, stole second and moved to third on an erroneous throw by VT’s catcher.
With freshman shortstop supreme Connor Justus up next, the Hokies’ braintrust had a meeting at the mound. So, Hall met with his hitter.
“I asked him what he thought they were going to start him out with, and he said, ‘probably a breaking ball,’” the coach recalled. “I agreed and suggested that he sit on a breaking ball.”
Sure enough, Virginia Tech starter Brad Markey threw that pitch.
Justus took it to right field to push in the go-ahead run.
Daniel Spingola tripled in the eighth, and soon scored on Matt Gonzalez’s single for the Jackets’ final run.
While none of this might read as strange, there has been plenty of that in the Jackets’ season.
Saturday’s win, after all clinched Georgia Tech’s first series win of the entire ACC season over a team that trails the Jackets in the standings.
Yet the Jackets have taken series from No. 1 Florida State, No. 13 North Carolina and No. 22 Miami.
That 22-9 home record is fine. Tech is 6-10 on the road.
This, then, will figure: Of the Jackets’ 16 home runs, 15 have come in Russ Chandler Stadium; of their 16 triples, 14 have been in the friendly confines.
That’s not weird. It’s uncanny.
Stanton’s path has been somewhat similarly unpredictable.
He was lost to Tommy John surgery on opening day in 2012, and pitched in but six games last season.
As this season, his fourth on The Flats, began, he had 10 innings of pitching to his credit, with a 3.86 ERA. All of his work was done in relief, as were his first 11 innings this season.
Now, 45.2 innings of starter’s work later, he sports an ERA of 2.17 in that role, with 34 strikeouts.
Stanton, as you might imagine, likes where he is – in the rotation.
“I enjoy starting. I like the routine where you come to the park you know what you’ve got to do. And really, I do enjoy it,” he said with extra emphasis just in case you didn’t catch it the first time. “I guess it’s just the way my body is . . . I feel like I can go long, and sustain my mechanics.”
Where as a reliever Stanton was primarily a two-pitch guy (fastball, curveball), he’s pulled the changeup out of moth balls.
“When you start, you have to be able to throw a changeup,” he explained. “It’s like night and day [different from starting]. You have to be able to throw it to keep the hitters honest off balance.”
Stanton has done that, and more.
He threw six shutout innings against the Seminoles in a game where the Jackets routed the nation’s top-ranked team 12-4.
With Saturday’s work added, in Stanton’s last three home starts he has allowed a total of one run to FSU, Duke and Virginia Tech.
He doesn’t have the home-away virus, however, quite like his teammates. They have it, unfortunately, in some sort of bizarro world reverse form.
In Stanton’s past three road starts, his teammates have scored a total of just one run in his support – A 5-0 loss at Pitt (he allowed two runs), a 4-1 loss at Maryland (two) and a 1-0 loss at N.C. State (one).
Many things about this time might give the head coach fits.
Stanton has not made that list.
“He does things the right way, and he’s a hard worker. It’s paying off for him,” Hall said. “He’s had an opportunity, and he’s taken full advantage of it and at the same time given our team a big lift.”
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