Bill Hass with Bill on Baseball:Wooster proves he’s a legitimate pitcher

“I’ve been waiting for this chance,” he said. “I’ve been messing with Berg about putting me in to close. It feels good.”
James Wooster

from Bill Hass with Bill on Baseball(Greensboro Grasshoppers) at….

Wooster proves he’s a legitimate pitcher

James Wooster had been nagging Hoppers manager David Berg about a chance to pitch in a save situation.

Sunday afternoon he got his chance — and delivered in a big way.

The outfielder-turned-pitcher pitched the eighth and ninth innings, retiring all six batters he faced to preserve Greensboro’s 3-2 win over West Virginia. It was Wooster’s first professional save.

“I’ve been waiting for this chance,” he said. “I’ve been messing with Berg about putting me in to close. It feels good.”

Wooster is familiar to Hoppers fans. He was an outfielder on the 2011 team that won the South Atlantic League championship and returned in 2012. He began spring training as an outfielder last year but there was a lot of competition for a few spots.

“The (Marlins) told me I could give hitting one more year,” he said, “or I could try pitching. I knew that unless I hit about .330 with about 20 home runs, I wasn’t going anywhere. I thought about it and the next day I said ‘let’s get it started.’”

Even though he agreed to the switch, Wooster admitted he didn’t listen closely enough to the pitching coaches last year. He stayed in extended spring training to learn some things and was sent to Batavia in the short season New York-Penn League. The results were ugly — 14 games, 1-2 record, 11.50 ERA.

“I couldn’t avoid the big inning,” he said. “It was all or nothing.”

After that, he adopted a new attitude and came back this year ready to be a pitcher.

“I had a different approach in spring training,” he said. “I learned that instead of just throwing hard, I have to throw strikes, pound the zone and keep the ball down. I’m pretty happy so far.”

In 10 games Wooster has pitched 14.1 innings, given up only four hits, allowed three runs, walked six and struck out 14.

“He’s pitched well and earned the opportunity at the end of games,” Berg said. “He’s proven that he can do it. He’s aggressive and if he doesn’t do something right, he gets back after it.”

Pitching coach Jeremy Powell said he likes Wooster’s pitching makeup and the way he uses the fastball on both sides of the plate to set up his secondary pitches.

His was a much-need performance after starter Domingo German had a strange outing. He had a strong first inning, then got out of his rhythm and gave up 12 hits over the next four innings. But the only damage was a two-run homer by JaCoby Jones in the fifth that cut the lead to one run.

Outstanding defense helped out German, with the Hoppers cutting down four Power baserunners. Left fielder Carlos Lopez threw out two, nailing one at home on a terrific throw to catcher Sharif Othman and one at third on a much easier play. Right fielder Kentrell Dewitt threw out a runner with a laser throw to second base. And Othman threw out a Power runner trying to steal second base.

Blake Logan played a key role by pitching two scoreless innings to keep the Hoppers in the lead. Wooster entered in the eighth and the left-hander breezed through a one-two-three inning with two strikeouts.

“They had their 7-8-9 hitters coming up and two of them are left-handed,” Powell said, “so we decided to let him start the inning and see what happened.”

Josh Easley was warming up just in case, but Wooster disposed of the first hitter on an easy ground ball. He threw three straight balls to the next hitter, including one that slipped and went about 10 feet over everyone’s head into the backstop netting.

“I was trying to change the batter’s eye level,” Wooster said with a smile. “That was a splitter that shook loose a little and got away.”

He composed himself and threw a strike, then a second strike and got the hitter on a swing and a miss for the second out. He retired the last batter on a groundout and was engulfed by his teammates.

The Hoppers bunched all their scoring into the second inning against talented right-hander Buddy Borden. Avery Romero got it started with a single off the shortstop’s glove, Dewitt followed with a one-out RBI triple, Othman turned a misplayed fly ball by the center fielder into an RBI double and Rehiner Cordova added an RBI single. The RBIs came from the 6-7-8 hitters.

The teams wind up the four-game series with a 10:45 a.m. game Monday. Matt Milroy will start for Greensboro.