NYPL notes: Harris sailing with Spikes

Navy grad dominating in long-awaited debut for State College

Mitch Harris, 27, is 3-1 with a 0.33 ERA over 16 professional appearances. (Christopher Shannon)

By Craig Forde / Special to MiLB.com | August 23, 2013 6:00 AM ET

Baseball owes it to State College hurler Mitch Harris to be patient.

It's not every day that a 27-year-old makes his debut in the New York-Penn League, but after four years at the U.S. Naval Academy and five more in active duty, that's exactly what Harris has done.

The Cardinals' 13th-round pick in 2008 has been extremely patient over the years, waiting to play a game that his service makes it possible for Americans to play.

Following his graduation from the Naval Academy, Harris accepted his commission, knowing that a drafted athlete would have the ability to apply for an exemption from his duty after serving two years. Despite meeting all requirements, his numerous requests were denied due to the country's "time of war" status.

"It was a tough battle," said Harris of the process. "But there's nothing you can do about it. I just knew my time was coming."

He was able to whet his appetite last season by attending Cardinals Spring Training, and in January he was let out of his active duty 50 days early, trading that for three years of reserve time in a flex-drill unit that will allow him to fulfill his duties during the offseason.

In the meantime, Harris played on a couple of military travel teams and did everything he could to keep his body in baseball shape while keeping the organization updated on his status.

"I would call the Cardinals to let them know I'd be pitching somewhere," said Harris. "Scouts would come down and we kept in contact as much as we could.

"I made sure I kept my body in shape and threw during whatever downtime I had."

When he arrived at camp, Harris' work to stay fit had paid off, allowing him to sharpen his three-pitch repertoire -- fastball, cutter, splitter -- while also working on locating each.

"The biggest part for me was getting my arm going again," said Harris. "My fastball was 82-84 mph the first month. I forced myself to work harder. I took yoga classes to stretch out the tendons that sat around for five years."

After time in extended spring training, Harris made his pro debut June 19, throwing 1 2/3 perfect innings in relief versus Williamsport and recording his first strikeout in the process.

In 15 appearances since, the 6-foot-4 Florida native has allowed just one run while striking out 24 batters and helping the Spikes become legitimate contenders in a heated playoff race.

"The team knows how good we are," said Harris, who boasts a 0.33 ERA and 1.05 WHIP. "It's going to take a team on their best day to beat us on an off-day. We play hard, hate losing and have fun on the field."

After persevering through the rigors of the Naval Academy and active duty, Harris appreciates the opportunity to be where he is.

"It's easy for me to not take it for granted," said Harris. "I always take a little time to remind myself where I've come from. When I hit the mound, I take off my hat, look at the flag and think about a lot of people who can't do this."

His patience is finally paying off, and Harris may soon be rewarded with some bonus postseason baseball, something he's surely waited long enough for.

In brief

When three equals zero: The Crosscutters' pitching trio of Yacksel Rios, Mark Meadors and Manny Martinez combined to record the NYPL's first no-hitter of the season in an 8-0 blanking of Mahoning Valley on Sunday. It was the second no-no in Williamsport history, the first coming seven years prior thanks to Henry Cabrera and Olivo Astacio. The last no-hitter in the NYPL had been Sept. 1 of last season when Vermont used a three-pitcher formula of J.C. Menna, Deyvi Jimenez and Ryan Dull. Six of the last 14 no-hitters in the NYPL have been three-man combined efforts.

Jackson backs Williams: Batavia right-hander Justin Jackson has catapulted to the top of the wins list by picking up victories in seven of his last eight appearances. A 27th-round selection of the Marlins in 2012, Jackson is 7-1 with a 3.51 ERA and 1.17 WHIP while working a piggyback role to starter Trevor Williams, who has allowed just eight earned runs in 26 innings before handing things off.

Lowell's hitting lows: With just two weeks to play, the Lowell Spinners are treading on historic ground they would rather avoid. Averaging just one home run every 5.3 games, their 11 total homers are a league low and could set a dubious franchise record. Lowell's previous low for home runs in a season, 24, was set back in 2000. A couple other Spinners offensive futility marks include hits and average. With 430 hits, the Spinners would need to average maore than 10 hits a game the rest of the way to best their 2010 low of 570 hits. Of course, if that happened, then last year's franchise-low batting average of .231 would not even come into consideration. However, currently at .234, Lowell could "challenge" it. Despite these numbers, the Spinners remain firmly entrenched in the playoff race.

Craig Forde is a contributor to MiLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.

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