CJ July still believes he’s a thrower, instead of a pitcher.
That’s because the Blue Springs High School graduate is making the long, painful comeback from Tommy John surgery on Oct. 13, 2017.
But the way the Blue Springs Rod’s Sport’s A’s right-hander progressed in a 10-2, mercy-rule victory over the Ottawa (Kan.) Post 60 Arrows in the 30th annual American Legion Wood Bat Invitational Thursday, he might have to re-evaluate his thought process.
He was wild – hitting two batters and walking three, included a bases-loaded pass that gave the Arrows their second run of the game – but he finished strong, striking out the side in the bottom of the fourth inning.
And that put a big smile on the face of A’s manager Mike Rooney, who is well known for scowling during even the most impressive Rod’s victories.
“We saw a lot of good things from CJ today,” Rooney said as the A’s improved to 2-1 in pool play. “His velocity was up – most of the time in the 86-87 mph range, topping out at 89 mph – and you could see him gain confidence as the game went on.
“He was a little wild, but he had seven strikeouts and finished with that big fourth inning where he struck out the side. He’s getting back to the CJ he was before the surgery. It’s long and it’s tough, but he has a lot of people on his side and we’re all excited about the job he did today.”
July, a perfectionist who was one of the top scholar-athletes in the history of Blue Springs High School, took a realistic approach to his outing.
“I just felt like I was throwing the ball early in the game,” said July, who gave up single runs in each of the first and second innings, the first two runs the 0-3 Arrows have scored in the tournament.
“I was throwing it, and I had no idea where it was going, and that’s frustrating,” July added. “But I finally felt like I had a little bit of control out there and was happy with the way I finished in the fourth inning.”
So was his catcher, Jackson Caley, who had two hits and two RBIs in support of July.
“He was kind of up and down early in the game,” Caley said, “but got a lot better as the game went on. We’re all so excited for CJ because he’s such an important part of our team.
“He really was kind of throwing the ball early on, but after that, he was pitching great!”
And the A’s offense, that went cold in a 2-1 loss to Elsberry (Mo.) Post 266 Wednesday, came to life to support July.
The A’s collected 10 hits and scored four runs in the first and third innings and added two in the top of the fifth to claim the eight-run mercy rule victory.
Caley, leadoff man Ray Paniagua and Jake Lufft each had two hits and two RBIs.
“I don’t know what happened in that (2-1) loss to Elsberry – that wasn’t the A’s,” Lufft said. “We didn’t even really hit the ball that well today, but they made some errors and we took advantage of them and scored a lot of runs to back CJ.”
Steven Orwick pitched a scoreless fifth inning for the A’s, in relief of July, who was on a 60-pitch limit.
“CJ threw 60 pitches and we got him out of there,” Rooney said. “We want him to be a big part of this team the rest of the season. I know he wants to throw the ball harder and have more consistency and that’s all going to come with time.”