NILES - A media buzz surrounded Eastwood Field Wednesday night as the Mahoning Valley Scrappers were treated to a rare but special surprise.
The Cleveland Indians assigned left-handed pitcher TJ House to start for the Scrappers against the Connecticut Tigers, and he looked sharp in his brief appearance. In five innings of work, he gave up no runs, allowed just two hits, struck out four batters and didn't surrender a walk.
"I felt good, I definitely wanted to work on a few things, throwing strikes down in the zone, working the inside part of the plate a little bit and kind of spinning a few breaking balls early, kind of mixing up the counts on these guys just to help me get back up there," House said.
Tribune Chronicle / Jeff Lange
Cleveland Indians pitcher TJ House enjoys a moment after Yonathan Mendoza’s defensive play at second base in the fifth inning. Due to the All-Star break, House made a start for the Scrappers on Wednesday.
House's performance, in conjunction with the Scrappers' bats and a much-improved relief-pitching effort, capped a 4-0 win over the Tigers. House's effort on the mound appeared seamless, but he didn't underestimate his Class-A short-season opponents.
"They're hitters and they're good, and if you don't make pitches, they're going to hurt you, so I think I just located well tonight and did what I know I can do best, and that's get ground balls and it worked out in my favor," House said. "You got to treat these guys like you treat them up there (in the majors) because if you give them any slack, they're going to tee off on you. To say, 'Oh they're just short-season guys,' that's going to be bad on my part because you can never give them too much credit and you can't give them too little."
House was not in the Mahoning Valley due to a rehab assignment. He pitched so that he does not miss a start during the MLB All-Star break.
Cleveland's plan was to have House pitch either five innings or keep his pitch count at 75 pitches. Because House pitched five innings worth of work but only threw 54 pitches, he pitched 21 cool-down pitches in the bullpen during the sixth.
"I had to go in (the pen) and throw a few more," House said. "I want to say it's 11 days between my last start and this next one, so going on a limited pitch count is not necessarily the best thing for me."
House said he will be back in his regular routine after his short stay in the Mahoning Valley. He will travel back to Columbus to participate in a few bullpen warm-up exercises and then will get the nod to start Monday night as the Indians take on the Minnesota Twins on the road. House is 1-2 with a 4.40 ERA so far with the Indians this season.
"There's definitely a lot of things I need to work on, but it's fine that it happens at that level because I'm not used to being up there, so being able to transition and learn and mold yourself into that premier player that you want to be, it's going to take time, but I think through the long run, it's going to be good for me."
Maybe it was coincidence, but with House on the mound, the Scrappers played their best baseball in weeks and seized their first home win since June 29. They were riding a five-game losing streak prior to Wednesday night.
Scrappers manager Ted Kubiak said it fell good to finally get a win at home.
"Feels good to get a win any place," Kubiak said. "I'm not going to qualify it. It was a good game, probably one of our better games."
Although House has now earned the status of a big-time major league starter, his high-profile presence in the Scrappers' clubhouse didn't cast a big shadow over the aspiring, MLB hopefuls. He took the time to talk to the young rookies as much as he could. Since House has spent much of the 2014 bouncing around back and forth between Triple-A Columbus and the Indians, House can closely relate to their minor-league experience.
"They're awesome guys," House said. "I was here back in 2008 - I was never in the Mahoning Valley, but I was in Lake County - and I know what it's like to come up through the system.
"I don't necessarily consider myself that much of a big leaguer, but I don't want to be that guy that comes in and is just ignoring them and nonchalantly not paying attention. They're a good group of guys and they're doing the same thing that I'm trying to do right now, and that's just to get to the big leagues and stay there."
HOW THEY WON:?Behind House, the Scrappers' broke open the game in the the sixth thanks to three straight hits and a sacrifice fly. Mahoning Valley (11-21) added two more insurance runs in the seventh and eighth innings, respectively.
Right fielder Greg Allen went 3-for-4 at the plate with two singles, a double and a run.
In relief, Luis DeJesus, Jose Zapata and Luke Eubank combined for four scoreless innings for Mahoning Valley, allowing two hits and one walk with four strikeouts. DeJesus, who was 0-2 coming into Wednesday's game, picked up his first win.
Game Note: The Cleveland Indians promoted Mike Papi from Mahoning Valley to Lake County Wednesday.