Baseball – Groome Dominates In Front of Phillies GM, Barnegat Scores Late to Win Opener
BARNEGAT - Barnegat senior Jason Groome is used to pitching in front of a throng of Major League Baseball scouts after his summer tear through the showcase circuit, but there was one member of the crowd at Barnegat's season-opener against Point Pleasant Borough Tuesday who caught the 6-foot-5-inch left-hander's attention.
Philadelphia Phillies first-year general manager Matt Klentak was in attendance Tuesday to watch Groome make his first start of the high school season and the man who will be making the final call on the first overall pick in June's MLB First Year Player Draft saw what most others have seen from Groome that has made him the favorite to be the Phillies' choice approximately two months from now.
Pitching in sub-40-degree temperatures, Groome struck out 10 on 59 pitches over four-plus innings in front of 20-to-30 scouts as Barnegat pulled out a 2-0 win over Point Boro to open the much-anticipated 2016 season for the Bengals and their left-handed ace.
"I felt great," Groome said. "All my pitches were working. I didn't throw as many changeups as I would have liked but my curveball was on, my fastball was on.
"When you have GM's here to watch you, it's really cool because they're the decision makers when it comes down to it."
Groome threw 41 of his 59 pitches for strikes and allowed four base-runners. He surrendered one hit, one walk, hit a batter, and allowed another runner to reach on an error. He came out to pitch the fifth inning and was lifted by Bengals coach Dan McCoy after he hit Point Boro junior Thomas Paul.
"I'm used to seeing all of the scouts behind the plate from the summer, but there were a lot back there," Groome said. "I know I don't have to impress them. I just go out and do my thing and that speaks for itself.
"The scouts know what I have. I don't have to go out there and light up the radar gun. If I go out there and execute pitches, I'll be just fine."
According to several of the radar guns of the scouts behind the plate, Groome's fastball Tuesday ranged from 90-to-94 miles-per-hour over the first four innings and was at 88 during his final at-bat in the top of the fifth. Groome's fastball topped out at 98 miles-per-hour over the summer and he is generally regarded to feature a fastball in the 92-to-97 miles-per-hour range.
"The weather didn't make a difference honestly, I thought," Groome said. "The first scrimmage out was like 35 degrees. I just took my time warming up and stretching."
"I would have liked to go longer, but the pitch count got a little high early on. It's the first outing of the season so I knew I wasn't going to go for too long."
Working mostly off the fastball, Groome threw 10 curveballs and showed his changeup twice, including once for a strikeout. He finished six of his 10 strikeouts with the curveball and according to the radar guns, his curve sat in the 75-to-78 miles-per-hour range.
"I wasn't really feeling the changeup in the bullpen," Groome said. "I messed around with some grips and overall didn't feel for it. It's kind of doing high school hitters a favor anyway because it's going from mid-90's to 79 or 80 (miles-per-hours) and that's like a regular fastball."
According to McCoy, Groome was on an opening-day pitch limit of 60 pitches and he entered the fifth at 56. Regardless of the outcome of Paul's at-bat, McCoy said he planned on going to the bullpen, although he did not expect it to be with the go-ahead run on first with nobody out.
"I didn't think anybody would get on," McCoy said. "I figured Jay would strike him out and then we'd go to the bullpen, but I'll also say this: we're not just a one-trick pony in our pitching staff. There are guys on our bench who could be pitching for other teams, which is a nice problem to have."
Point Boro senior right fielder and lefty-swinging Bill Feehan had the lone hit for the Panthers and it was a single through the right side on a Groome fastball as part of a hit-and-run with two out.
"He throws fast and his fastball (cuts) out against lefties," said Feehan who also drew a walk in his first plate appearance to give him a 1-for-1 day from the left-hand batter's box. "He threw me a fastball in and it was a hit-and-run so I just got it on the ground to the right side and it got through. We were pumpe to face him. We were just thinking about putting the ball in play, see what happens."
The hit by Feehan gave Point Boro its best scoring chance against Groome, but he responded with a strikeout of No. 3 hitter Frank Graziano to end the frame.
"I'm kind of waiting for that game where I get hit around because I want to see how I react," Groome said. "If I give up a hit here or there or a couple runners get on, I know that's going to happen. I thought that ground ball was going to be an out, but the second baseman was covering the bag, so there's nothing you can do about it."
Groome left the game in the fifth with the score tied at zero and responsible for the runner on first base. Senior right-hander Jared Kacso worked around an error to put runners on the corners to escape the inning and threw two more hitless frames to earn the win in relief. Kacso struck out three, hit a batter and did not issue a walk.
"I was ready whenever I got the call," Kacso said. "I wasn't exactly sure when, but I felt comfortable taking the ball in that situation. I came in looking to get a ground ball and just tried to let the defense make a play for me."
Barnegat took the lead in the bottom of the fifth with a pair of unearned runs off Point Boro right-handed starter Tim Rossi. Junior Eric Becker lined a 1-2 pitch inside the first base bag for a one-out single, stole second base and scored on a throwing error with two outs on a ground ball by junior shortstop and leadoff hitter Aaron McLaughlin.
Senior center fielder Collin O'Conner tacked on an insurance run with a double to the wall in left field to plate McLaughlin from second base.
Rossi allowed two unearned runs in 4 2/3 innings, during which he surrendered four hits and no walks while striking out four.
The opening-day hoopla might not have been anything new for Groome, but it was a first-hand look at the new normal for the rest of the Bengals whenever their ace is on the mound. The area behind the backstop was packed with scouts and other Major League personnel, as well as media and general spectators.
"It reminded me of the (South Jersey Group II) championship game two years ago," Kasco said. "There were so many people here, it looked like you could barely move out there. It kind of cleared out once Jay was done pitching, but I got to throw like three pitches while some of the scouts were still packing up, so that was good. I'll take it. I hope every game he pitches is like this."
Groome is back at Barnegat after spending his junior year at IMG Academy in Florida. He helped lead the Bengals to the Ocean County, Shore Conference and NJSIAA South Jersey Group II Tournament finals as a sophomore in 2014, but the Bengals came up short in all three.
"Just the atmosphere was awesome," Groome said. "I'm just happy to be back and happy we came out with a win."
Even before the game, Groome worked out in front of a gathering of fans and scouts who watched him warm up in the outfield and convened around him to watch him throw in the Barnegat bullpen.
"(The attention) was stressful at first, but now I'm just having fun with it," Groome said. "I saw my dad down there, people were surrounding him. We're just taking it all in and having fun with it. It's been awesome."