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Second baseman made adjustments to handle offspeed pitches

By ANDREW MILLERapmiller@postandcourier.com

It was the kind of scenario that every kid who has ever picked up a baseball bat has conjured up in his imagination.

Standing at the plate, two outs, bottom of the ninth, with a runner in scoring position and the game on the line.

It’s what Angelo Gumbs faced last summer for the New York-Penn League’s Staten Island Yankees against the Batavia Muckdogs.

“They were looking for a groundball and a changeup is usually a good groundball pitch because most guys are out in front of it and hit the ball right into the ground,” said Gumbs, the starting second baseman for the Charleston RiverDogs.

First pitch, changeup. Gumbs keeps his bat on his shoulder. Strike one.

Second pitch, Gumbs passes again. Ball one.

Thinking there was no way he would see a third straight changeup, Gumbs misses badly on another off-speed pitch and is down 1-2 in the count. He fouled off the next pitch, another changeup.

“I was determined to get my pitch and not swing at the pitch he wanted me to swing at,” Gumbs said.

On the eighth pitch, Gumbs was looking fastball and got another changeup. Strike three.

Dejected, Gumbs returned to the dugout, determined to never strike out again if faced with a similar situation.

“That was a tough at bat, it was a quality at bat, but it showed me that I had a lot to learn about hitting off-speed stuff,” Gumbs said. “I was so mad afterward that I had gotten eight straight change-ups, but I knew I’d see a lot more change-ups as long as I couldn’t hit them. Anyone can hit a fastball at the professional level. The guys that make it to the major leagues and do well are the guys that can hit any pitch.”

Gumbs spent the next week in the batting cage, honing his pitch recognition skills.

A week later, Gumbs found himself at the plate late in the game. This time he crushed a curveball to the fence and knocked in the winning run. It was at that exact moment that Gumbs believes he became a legitimate professional hitter.

“It all started back with one at-bat,” Gumbs said. “I started to really lock in on the different velocity of the pitches and watch for the spin of the ball so I’d know when I was getting a change-up or curveball or fastball.”

Gumbs’ hard work is still paying off.

He was recently named the South Atlantic League player of the week after batting .464, going 13-of-28 with one triple, one home run, five RBIs, six runs, one walk, and a league-high 11 stolen bases.

“They had me batting lead-off the last series and that took me back to when I was 14 playing travel ball,” Gumbs said. “I was locked in. I was getting a lot of first pitch fastballs. It was great until they started to throw a lot of change-ups again. Even then I was able to battle and get another fastball and do something with it.”

After a slow start, Gumbs has been a tough out over the last month. He is hitting .268 with two home runs and 17 RBIs. He is second in the SAL with 19 stolen bases.

“Reggie Jackson told a guy last year that he could be a power hitter or be a guy that ran a lot,” Gumbs said. “I’m trying to do both. I think the running game is still important.”

Drafted as an outfielder by the Yankees in the second round of the 2010 draft, Gumbs was moved to second base. A superb athlete, Gumbs, who played some shortstop in high school, has made a seamless transition to the infield.

“He has come a long way defensively,” said RiverDogs manager Carlos Mendoza. “He’s is making the routine plays. He’s handling the ball well and he has done everything we’ve asked of him. He has a very bright future.”