By Jon Mettus
July 6, 2016
COTUIT — Rio Gomez (Arizona) was originally only supposed to pitch three innings, but with the way things were going, Cotuit head coach Mike Roberts couldn’t help but leave him in the game.
“You got one more in you?” Gomez recalled Roberts asking after the third. “All right, we’ll take it hitter-to-hitter.”
Gomez gave up a solo home run to the deepest part of the field two outs into the fourth inning. But that was it. One blemish on an otherwise spotless start. In the three innings prior, he retired all nine batters and struck out seven of them. Each one was swinging.
The Kettleers went on to beat the Hyannis Harbor Hawks, 5-1, at Lowell Park on Wednesday.
“Throwing strikes. That’s what I like,” Roberts said. “He did a great job. He did a marvelous job. He bailed us out.”
On the board in the dugout before the game, Roberts had written “Gomez or Simmons” next to the starting pitcher slot, referring to Connor Simmons (Georgia Southern). In the days prior, Wednesday’s probable starter was even more vague: TBA. It wasn’t until a pitchers’ meeting after batting practice that Roberts told Gomez he was getting the start.
“I really don’t know,” Roberts said about how he decided between the two. He joked that he flipped a coin. “I coach by my gut.”
Roberts’ gut told him that with Hyannis’ lineup, the Kettleers needed a pitcher that could change speeds on the mound. Gomez was the one for the job.
Gomez headed out to the grass next to the bullpen and started throwing with bullpen catcher Nick Whitman. He didn’t start throwing as early as a normal starter would, he said, to simulate coming out of the bullpen for an in-game relief appearance.
“That has a nice bite to it,” Whitman appeared to say to Gomez about his changeup with plenty of movement on it after they were done. A few minutes later, that pitch was working wonders for Gomez on the mound.
Trey Truitt (Mercer) fished at one in the dirt to start the game. Zach Rutherford (Old Dominion) fanned on a high fastball to finish the first.
In the second, Dylan Busby (Florida State) thought he walked on a 3-1 pitch and was already heading to first as the home plate umpire signaled for a called strike. He struck out on a foul tip on the next pitch. Jordan Rodgers (Tennessee) whiffed at one in the previous at-bat.
“I always feel confident,” Gomez said,”no matter the count, lefty, righty. I feel good.”
Gomez was locked in. His 6-foot, 190-pound frame seemingly towering over the Harbor Hawk hitters.
None of the three batters to come up in the third stood much of a chance as each one came up empty on the final pitch of their at-bats.
Gomez forced a line out and a groundout to start the fourth inning, but when Rutherford took a changeup that he left up in the zone into the trees, he knew his day was done.
“He’s got baseball sense and that’s all we ask him to do,” Roberts said. “I’m really pleased for him.”