It’s been quite a whirlwind week for pitcher Nick Wittgren. On Tuesday, the 23-year-old was called up from Double-A Jacksonville to fill a role in the Zephyrs’ pitching staff, but about an hour after he arrived at the ballpark, the scheduled game was called due to rain.
Fast-forward about 15 hours and Wittgren found himself in the middle of a Zephyrs comeback victory.
The hard-throwing righty entered a tie game in the top of the 10th inning and promptly struck out the side on 13 pitches, including punchouts of top-prospects Addison Russell and Kris Bryant.
“I don’t really worry about who I’m facing,” Wittgren said. “I’m just focusing on facing a hitter and getting them out.”
With an over-powering fastball and well-placed breaking ball, Wittgren set John Andreoli with ease and then went to work on Russell. Wittgren mowed the short stop down on three pitches then blew away Bryant – Baseball America’s top prospect – on five pitches.
“I was just coming in wanting to throw strikes. Get ahead and let the off-speed stuff play. Go in and out, up and down, so I executed pitches and those are great hitters, everyone knows they are, and I just got away with a few pitches,” he said.
But his day wasn’t over after leaving the mound, and after a Jhonatan Solano lead-off double, Wittgren was forced to handle the bat in a key moment. After a quick meeting with manager Andy Haines down the third base line, Wittgren got the bunt down, but it was too hard and right back to pitcher Drake Britton, who easily nabbed Solano going to third.
“I got the bunt down, which I wanted to do, but it didn’t go where I wanted it to. So I was on first and I was like, ‘I haven’t done this since freshman year of junior college,’ so let’s see how this goes,” he said.
Jordany Valdespin singled and Austin Wates walked to get Wittgren to third, where Haines delivered a very simple message.
“I got to third and [he] told me ‘fly ball, make sure you tag. Do not leave early.’ So I made sure I didn’t leave early and I just tried to make sure I didn’t get picked off or thrown out,” Wittgren said.
On the first pitch, Vinny Rottino – who had entered the game for Justin Bour as a pinch runner in the 9th inning – laced a fly ball to center field, deep enough for Wittgren to score easily and snap a three-game Zephyrs’ losing streak.
“Everyone picked it up the last few innings and a win’s a win,” he said. “Did what we needed to do in the 10th to win a ballgame.”