Gem Down By The River

RIVERSIDE, Calif.–Friday’s marquee mound matchup more than lived up to its significant billing. UC Riverside junior righthander James Simmons and Cal State Fullerton junior righty Wes Roemer took a 1-1 pitcher’s duel into the ninth inning, when Fullerton shortstop Joe Scott laid down a picture-perfect safety squeeze to drive in the go-ahead run in the top of the inning. The Highlanders answered back with two runs against Roemer in the bottom of the frame to take a big 3-2 win.

“They’re the class of the Big West, and they have been for years and years and years,” Riverside coach Doug Smith said of the Titans. “To go out on a Friday night and beat their No. 1 guy, that’s a gigantic win for us.”

Simmons was strong all game, sitting in the 90-91 mph range with his fastball and getting a number of strikeouts by elevating the pitch. He relied heavily upon his 78-80 mph changeup against both lefthanded and righthanded hitters, and he mixed in a few eephus-like 66-69 mph curveballs. That is usually just a show pitch, but he got several outs with it tonight. Multiple scouts said they were impressed with his easy arm action and 6-foot-4 pitcher’s frame, which some said might have some projection left to it. He finished with eight strikeouts and no walks in a complete-game victory, scattering eight hits and allowing just two runs.

Despite another very tough loss that dropped him to 6-5 on the year, Roemer earned himself some money tonight. The Roemer on display against UCR was closer to the first-team All-American of 2006 than the pitcher who looked flat and struggled with his command that I saw a month ago at East Carolina. One National League scout said Roemer looked particularly hyped up tonight–early in the game he ran his fastball up to 93 mph, and he sat in the 90-91 range all night. He also demonstrated a very sharp slider that he was able to command to both sides of the plate, and he mixed in a few changeups. During one stretch in the fourth and fifth innings, he struck out four straight batters–three of them looking on devastating sliders–on his way to seven strikeouts on the evening. He allowed three earned runs on eight hits while walking two over eight-plus innings.

“That was as advertised. Both those guys were really good,” Smith said. “They’re both not only good, I mean their stuff was good and their command was good, but they’re both so doggone competitive, and neither one was willing to give in. Had we not won there, that was going to be it for Simmons, and I can promise you it would have been a brawl trying to pull him out of there because he wanted to match Roemer pitch for pitch.”