What a relief. Mustangs right-hander Jeremy Kivel returned the mound coming out of the bullpen Monday night, marking his first appearance in the 15 days since he was shelved with a bone spur in his right elbow.
Kivel, a hard-throwing 20-year-old and one of the more prized pitchers in the Cincinnati Reds’ system, said he hasn’t felt well for most of the season. And his 0-3 record and plus-7.00 ERA tell that tale.
But his 1 2/3 innings during the Mustangs’ 4-3 victory — which ended on Aristides Aquino’s game-winning single in the ninth — was a step forward in improving his health and his mindset.
“Elbow, shoulder … everything. I just haven’t felt right,” said Kivel, who required a cortisone shot in his right elbow two weeks ago. “But it felt good tonight. I was able to come out and throw strikes.”
The 6-foot-1, 205-pound Kivel was drafted in the 10th round in 2012, not long after he injured his left knee playing outfield in an early-season high school game. He signed with the Reds, but didn’t play that year due to rehabilitation.
Last season he threw 50 innings in the Arizona League, and so far in Billings he’s at 26 2/3. Since extended spring training, Kivel surmises he’s thrown between 60 and 70 innings in 2014, and that’s a hefty load for a guy who pitched fewer than 17 innings during his entire high school career.
“All I’m doing right now is developing my arm and developing my pitches, just learning how to pitch,” Kivel said. “Just trying to go at guys with the fastball, trying to stay down in the zone, trying to put them away with the slider.”
When he’s feeling good, the 6-foot-1, 205-pound Kivel says he can reach back and hit as high as 99 mph on the radar gun. That’s some serious juice. But he’s stayed more in the 92-95 range as a Mustang. Kivel’s arm is an asset the organization is investing in.
“Anybody who throws in the mid-90s, everybody’s going to like him,” Mustangs manager Dick Schofield said. “His secondary pitch, his slider, was pretty decent tonight. He looked good.”
Kivel struck out three without giving up a walk on Monday. He allowed three hits without an earned run.
KEY MOMENT: Thompson was a late-inning catalyst, and his one-out single in the ninth set the stage for Aquino’s heroics. Aquino ended it when he laced an Alec Crawford offering into the left-center field gap to score Thompson. “Aquino’s unbelievable,” Thompson said. “He’s fun to watch.” The Mustangs have now won six of their past eight games.
ON THE MOUND: Mustangs starter Tyler Mahle went into the fifth inning for the third consecutive time. He had five strikeouts and no walks while allowing two earned runs. His counterpart, Harrison Musgrave, had eight strikeouts in four innings. Rockies reliever Rafael Betancourt, who was the closer with their parent club in Colorado in 2012 and half of 2013, made his 11th rehab appearance while as he recovers from Tommy John surgery. But Betancourt departed with two-out in the sixth after calling the trainer out from the dugout.
AT THE PLATE: Hitters from Billings and Grand Junction combined to strike out 29 times. The Mustangs fanned 17 times, led by Argenis Aldazoro and Taylor Sparks, who were each rung up four times. The Rockies’ Wes Rogers had three of his team’s 12 strikeouts. Aquino struck out once, but blasted his 13th homer of the season in the fourth, a no-doubter over the left-field barrier and beyond.
UP NEXT: Billings and Grand Junction tangle for the second time in their four-game series Tuesday at Dehler Park. Luke Moran (2-4, 5.09) is scheduled to start for the Mustangs. Billings won’t face left-handed pitcher Kyle Freeland in this series. Freeland was promoted to Class A Asheville last week. Freeland was the eighth overall pick by Colorado in the 2014 draft.