CRYSTAL LAKE – Throughout the offseason, Crystal Lake Central sophomore Fred Birr had been working on his curveball. On Monday, the right-handed pitcher had a chance to show his stuff.
The Tigers sophomore baseball team doesn't have any games scheduled over spring break, so varsity coach Dan Badgley called up several players to the varsity squad for the week, including Birr, to get a look at some of the young talent in the program. What he saw blew him away.
Badgley was impressed with Birr, who worked five innings of two-run ball Monday afternoon in a 7-6 loss to visiting Palatine at Lippold Park.
"I think I'm going to use him as a starter," Badgley said of Birr. "He proved it today that he is right in the middle of that rotation, if not part of the top couple of guys. Freddie earned his spot today, big time."
Birr came in to pitch in the third inning in relief of junior pitcher Robby Cormier. Cormier started the game for the Tigers (0-2), and although he had good movement on his pitches, highlighted by a tailing fastball that cut in on right-handed hitters, he had trouble with his control.
Cormier was able to strike out five batters in his two innings of work, but he also walked six batters and hit another with a pitch. The Pirates took advantage of the free bases and turned a walk into a run three separate times in the first two innings.
The amount of walks drove up Cormier's pitch count as he tossed 58 pitches in the first two innings before being pulled in favor of Birr, trailing 5-1.
Birr, not used to being a reliever, had a strong first inning as he struck out the first two batters and got the third to hit a soft infield pop fly. His effectiveness allowed the Tigers to keep the score within reach and steadily chip away at the 5-1 deficit.
"Fred did a great job, just a great job," Badgley said. "He kept us in the game and he energized the team and gave us a chance to win."
The Tigers scored two runs in the fourth and another two in the fifth to draw within one. Palatine scored in the top of the fourth to go up, 6-5, before Central outfielder Riley Popell scored the tying run in the bottom of the sixth after Tanner Larkins roped a single to left field.
The Tigers' half of the sixth featured a scare as Blake Gleason fouled a 2-2 pitch off his left cheek. The ball caromed into his nose and Gleason fell to the ground. He was taken away in an ambulance to the outpatient center at Advocate Good Shepherd Hospital in Crystal Lake where he received X-rays on his nose.
"I was more stunned than anything at the time," Gleason said over the phone from the waiting room. "They just packed my nose and wanted to take X-rays to see if there is a break."
The X-rays revealed a fracture and the junior will see a specialist Tuesday to determine further action.
Gleason's replacement grounded out and Larkins, the next batter, hit the tying RBI single. Palatine scored in the top half of the seventh during a two-out rally to bring the score to 7-6, where it stayed.
Birr took the loss but finished with nine strikeouts while walking only one. His added work on his curveball was evident as five of his strikeouts were looking as he froze the Palatine batters with the big breaking pitch.
"I felt good through the majority of the time," Birr said. "I felt pretty confident with my fastball and pretty good with my curveball.
"I've been working on the curveball for a long time and I thought it worked pretty well today."