Clippers Clinch IL West; Nick Hagadone Looks Beastly

The Clippers entered Tuesday night’s game with a magic number of just two, but also riding a four-game losing streak. Their pitching had been suspect at best during the streak, and given that projected starter Zach McAllister was up in Cleveland, they needed Paolo Espino to step up.

And step up he did, working 7.0 strong innings, allowing just two hits, walking none, and whiffing seven Buffalo Bisons en route to a 5-0 win. Espino got some help from the long ball, and the Clippers as a whole got some help from the Indianapolis Indians, who lost 7-6 to Lehigh Valley to give the Clippers the IL West title.

Jared Goedart, Jerad Head, and Cord Phelps each hit home runs for Columbus, and Nick Hagadone (more on him below) and Josh Judy each worked a perfect inning to seal the win. Goedart’s home run in the first inning would provide all the margin that Espino needed, and Head’s solo shot in the fourth and Phelps’ two-run bomb that cleared the bleachers in left field in the seventh provided the cushion. But Espino cruised, and didn’t need any extra help.

It was a start the Clippers desperately needed, especially after surrendering 38 total runs in their previous four games. Espino was strong into and through the seventh, as the Bisons didn’t get a ball out of the infield in the sixth and seventh combined while also striking out three times.

For me, I’ve had the misfortune of going to several games and prior to last night having never seen Nick Hagadone pitch in person. A key part of the Victor Martinez trade from 2009, the 25-year-old lefty looks to be making strides toward helping the Tribe pen in the near future. An imposing 6’5″ and 230 pounds, Hagadone brings a true power arm from the left side. I coerced my wife into staying an extra inning so that I could see him pitch.

Much like the first time I saw Chen-Chang Lee pitch, I was thoroughly impressed by Hagadone’s “stuff”. He’s been a bit inconsistent this year in Columbus, but last night he was definitely “on”. I can also say, if he learns some command, he’s going to be positively filthy. His fastball was consistently sitting at 95 or 96, and though he didn’t throw it often he mixed in an 83 MPH off-speed pitch. The three Bisons hitters he faced were only able to put defensive swings on the ball, and the only two that touched his fastball were late on it. The first hitter (lefty) slapped a weak, lazy fly to shallow left, and the second hitter (righty) slapped a weak grounder to first. The third hitter struck out swinging, not able to put a ball in play.

Hagadone was never below 94 on the gun, and as I noted most of his fastballs were 95 and 96. I couldn’t get much of a read on his off-speed pitch (mainly because he didn’t throw it very much), but his fastball was so overpowering last night that he didn’t really need it. He was the most overpowering lefty I’ve seen in person other than Aroldys Chapman last year when he was with Louisville (who routinely went north of 100 MPH). So far, Hagadone had held lefties to a .128 average, and his stuff is good enough to be in the discussion for the Tribe’s bullpen in 2012.

So, now the Clippers are in the playoffs with a chance to defend their IL title. They will await the IL South division champion, which appears to be Durham again this year. The Bulls have a 4.5 game lead over Gwinnett, and a magic number of 11.

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Photo Credit: Columbus Clippers via http://www.clippersbaseball.com