MOOSIC — Kyle Higashioka thinks Justus Sheffield has yet to reach his ceiling.
After catching the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders southpaw’s first Triple-A win on Friday, Higashioka thinks the 22-year-old can be even better. And that was after Sheffield struck out eight Louisville Bats, had command of both his fastball and his slider, and kept his velocity up through all six scoreless innings. He even got a strikeout using his third-best pitch, a change-up,
It’s why Higashioka believes Sheffield will be a “really successful big leaguer” one day.
“He had a great outing but I think there’s even more to him,” Higashioka said. “He was working with the fastball, change-up, slider really well, but I guess the exciting thing is that he’s got more in the tank. There’s another level that he hasn’t shown yet that I can see is in there.
“He got through a really good outing — he was still slightly erratic at times. We had the change-up half the time and I think once he nails that down and is locked in and gets rid of some of the four-pitch walks or whatever, it’s going to be really fun to watch.”
Walks have been an issue for Sheffield at times throughout his Triple-A campaign.
Sheffield is averaging close to five walks per nine innings and his WHIP sits at 1.13. Comparatively, Sheffield’s 15 Triple-A walks put him in the top 50 in the International League after only a month’s worth of starts, which included a stint on the disabled list.
However, after walking four batters in his debut in Pawtucket, Sheffield hasn’t touched that number since.
“The lead-off walks are what kill you,” RailRiders manager Bobby Mitchell said. “I’m sure we’re all aware, our shutdown innings aren’t great. So sometimes, pitchers, they think about that too much, and I don’t know if he was or not, but sometimes you think about it too much and you start aiming the ball a little bit and the next thing you know it’s four straight balls and you get in a little bit of trouble.”
One of the most dynamic aspects of Sheffield’s game, and quite possibly his favorite part, is his love pitching against both right-handed and left-handed batters.
Traditionally, right-handed batters perform better against left-handed pitchers. Except Sheffield’s an anomaly. Right-handed batters are struggling against the RailRiders’ lefty, batting .203. In a much-smaller sample size, lefties are also struggling, batting .054 against Sheffield.
“I loved it,” Sheffield said of facing a righty-heavy Louisville lineup on Friday. “I can use my third pitch. I can throw my change-up, get them off-balance. My back-foot slider I feel is my best pitch to righties. I love facing righties. I love facing lefties. Either way.”
Facing relievers first
The Tampa Bay Rays are starting to change the way managers shape the lineups.
The Rays have recently started using relievers in the first inning, and it has trickled down to their minor league affiliates. The RailRiders saw it firsthand this past week when they hosted the Durham Bulls.
Durham used two relievers as starters in two of the three-game series. It forced Mitchell to rethink his lineup.
“(Thursday) we knew it and I changed (the lineup) up a little,” Mitchell said. “I didn’t change it up a lot because there’s certain priority guys that need to hit at the top of the lineup anyway, but I have four lefties in a row today because I think (southpaw Kyle Bird) is going to start, but he’s not going to go a long time. They don’t have any other lefties to pitch.”
Drury staying hot
Brandon Drury has been a constant threat in the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre lineup since he joined the RailRiders full-time on May 14. The third baseman has reached base in 30 straight games heading into Saturday. That includes his rehab stint.
Drury is batting .303 with seven doubles, three home runs, 26 walks and 13 RBI.
Reach DJ Eberle at 570-991-6398 or on Twitter @ByDJEberle