Lamorinda Baseball Club

Lamorinda Generals Alum, James Marvel, Makes MLB Debut

‘He was pitching’: James Marvel impresses in MLB debut

Maybe it’s natural, maybe it’s a little intentional, but James Marvel typically tunes out the noise when he pitches. If someone landed a helicopter in center field and nobody reacted to it, chances are the Pirates pitcher might not notice.

On Sunday, though, that was different.

Marvel, making his major league debut, heard the noise, especially when the 40 or so members of his traveling party started to really get into his start. The affable, well-traveled hurler loved every minute of it.

“I’ve always felt that I can’t really hear things when I’m pitching,” Marvel said. “I tend to just kind of zone out and really focus on what I’m doing and the glove.

“But I’d be lying if I said that [Sunday] there weren’t a few instances when I heard them. That was special.”

While the Pirates lost to the Cardinals, 2-0, at PNC Park, Marvel enjoyed a special afternoon.

One that might be pretty good for the Pirates, too.

Making the first of what general manager Neal Huntington said would be four consecutive starts to close out the season, the 25-year-old right-hander pitched like someone who has been around a while, locating his pitches, reading swings and … well, actually pitching.

His fastball didn’t dazzle, but Marvel kept things down in the zone, threw all of his pitches for strikes and did not look the least bit uncomfortable. Marvel, who retired nine guys on three or fewer pitches, was also not intimidated.

“He was shaving,” manager Clint Hurdle said. “Took the sting out of the bats. I thought he did a fine job first time out. Fun to watch.”

It’s exactly what Marvel has done this season during a terrific run through the minor leagues, where he went 16-5 with a 2.94 ERA and 136 strikeouts in 28 starts between Class AA Altoona and Class AAA Indianapolis.

Marvel became the 14th starting pitcher used by the Pirates this season, the most since they used that same number in 2016. The Padres are the only other National League team to use that many in 2019.

How rare was it for Marvel, a 36th-round pick of the Pirates in 2015, to make it to the major leagues? The previous pitcher chosen in the 36th round or later to start a game for the Pirates was Shane Youman in 2006. Youman was a 43rd-round pick out of LSU.

Another neat thing about Marvel’s debut: His father, John, is an executive producer for NFL Network, meaning he had to miss a pretty important day of work to watch his son pitch — not that John Marvel would ever complain.

“When we found out I was pitching on Sunday, my dad said, ‘Well, I’ll be there. … I might lose my job, but I’ll be there.’ ” James joked.

After the game, the San Francisco, Calif., native had an emotional meeting with those who hopped last-minute flights — some of them red-eyes — across the country to watch him pitch.

A couple of times during his answers, it was obvious that Marvel was a little choked up and emotional, not just ho-humming the situation.

“Just hearing what everybody individually had to say to me makes me realize — and I knew this before — that I didn’t get here alone,” Marvel said. “All the people that have loved and supported me and have just poured an incredible amount of effort into my career … those moments were incredible.”

It was a tough scenario for Marvel’s first start at this level.

Not only facing the Cardinals, one of baseball’s best teams since the All-Star break, but also St. Louis starter Jack Flaherty, who carried into the game an ERA of 0.85, the second-best post-All-Star-break ERA in baseball history.

Marvel wound up going five-plus innings, and he allowed two earned runs on four hits and a pair of walks. He threw 85 pitches, 53 for strikes.

The Cardinals got one run in the fifth when left fielder Matt Carpenter doubled, and center fielder Harrison Bader drove him in with a single to left. The pitch wasn’t bad, either. Marvel threw Bader a full-count changeup at the bottom of the strike zone.

St. Louis (81-62) stretched its lead to 2-0 early in the sixth inning. Marvel walked second baseman Kolten Wong on four pitches to start it, and first baseman Paul Goldschmidt hit another well-placed changeup, this time taking it the other way to right-center field for a double.

When Goldschmidt was on second, apparently he said something to Adam Frazier about Marvel.

“I was talking to Goldschmidt on the bases,” Frazier explained. “He was impressed, which says a lot. When he’s giving some kudos to a guy, you know he’s doing pretty well.”

Flaherty, of course, was better, which can describe pretty much every one of his starts these days. He pitched eight scoreless innings, allowed five hits, walked one and struck out 10. He now has made 10 scoreless starts this season, most among MLB starters who are not openers.

The spin stuff was great. So were the sequences and the huge drop in speeds between his fastball and breaking stuff. The control, the command, you name it. The Pirates hit one ball off Flaherty harder than 100 mph.

“He was on top of his game,” Hurdle said, “and he’s been doing it for awhile.”

As good as Flaherty was, though, that won’t matter for the Pirates future. What Marvel gave them was intriguing — and not just because of the funky windup.

Could he slide into their rotation for next season? Although it was one start, he certainly looked capable.

“Very impressive,” Frazier said. “I had been following how he had been doing in Triple-A. Winning 17 out of 18 starts says a lot. I’m happy for him that he got a shot up here. Working behind him was fun. A lot of pace. Good tempo. He was hitting his spots, making them work.

“He didn’t give ’em much to hit, and that’s the name of the game. He was pitching.”

Jason Mackey: and Twitter @JMackeyPG.

First Published September 8, 2019 4:41 PM