Young MV staff finding its way

NILES – Confidence for the Mahoning Valley Scrappers pitching staff is steadily growing as the collection of young hurlers gain experience through a young season.

The Scrappers allowed six runs in a 6-4, 10-inning loss to the Jamestown Jammers on “Bring Back LeBron Night” at Eastwood field, increasing their ERA to 4.26, second worst in the New York-Penn League. Starting pitcher Kieran Lovegrove (0-1) started for the third time this season, earning a no decision, but felt as though his development is moving along nicely.

“I was feeling a lot better today than the last few starts,” Lovegrove said. “Starting to feel like it’s all going in the right direction. I didn’t have the best stuff, didn’t have the best control today, but you’re going to have days like that. But all in all, it’s moving in the right direction, and that’s the important thing right now.”

The main thing Scrappers’ pitching coach Greg Hibbard is preaching is throwing strikes and keeping a determined mindset. Seven pitchers on the 17-man rotation came out of this year’s draft and another five played last season in the Arizona or Dominican Republic developmental league. Getting into a groove this season won’t be immediate, but Hibbard’s philosophy is to let these young players go out and pitch the way that got them to this level.

“Commanding the ball in the strike zone, (keeping a) positive focus and executing their pitches – and hopefully working ahead of hitters (are the most important things this early in the season),” Hibbard said.

“All these young kids come in with good things that we see. We see a lot of confidence in some of these young college kids, so it’s good to see them get out there and show their stuff.

“The new college kids that come in, we’re really hands-off. There’s not a whole lot I’m going to probably offer with the exception of maybe some mind set things or maybe some ways they can attack hitters with their stuff. As far as mechanics go, for them to come in here and for us take over and kind of change some things is probably not going to happen. We want to see them pitch for a while, and eventually there may be some slight adjustments that we will make.”

Hibbard also sees some potential players who can make a long-term impact in the organization in a short period of time. Two players he mentioned who appear to stand out are 2014 draft picks Luke Eubank and Julian Meryweather.

“I’ve had a short look at Eubank and I liked the way he threw the ball,” Hibbard said. “He’s a sidewinder who showed some interesting stuff. Meryweather is going to start in two days, he’s had a couple good outings, so it’s going to be fun to watch him continue on.

“Cody Allen was here a couple years ago, and when you see those guys, our biggest thing is to kind of stay away and let them pitch. I feel like we’ve got some potential with some guys that are here now, it’s just (we’ll) let them get their feet wet. There are a couple guys, like Eubank, that have only been out there one time.”

Lovegrove, who gave up two runs in 4 1/3 innings on Thursday, is focused on getting better every day by honing his mechanics and pitching consistently. The 19-year-old South African native has an ERA of 10.38 through three starts this season but understands that his growth as a pitcher is dependent on his ability to stay focused and learn from his teammates.

“Day to day, I’m just trying to gain some consistency to be that guy that can go out there and be counted on every time I start,” he said. “We haven’t gotten there yet this season, but it’s moving there, and I think next time out is going to be better, then better, as long as I can stay on that even keel mentality.

“The learning process is pretty important here, so you pick up something from every start and you build off it,” he added. “Doing that is really what’s going to help everyone here because everyone is learning off of each other as well – it’s not just an individual effort, we’re all trying to get better, and that’s what this league is about, it’s about development.”

Luis DeJesus hopes to decrease the pitching staff’s ERA as the Scrappers continue their home stretch tonight against Jamestown at 7:05 p.m., with Aerosmith-themed fireworks following the game.