Even with an extra day to settle his nerves, Cole Ragans still couldn’t seem to shake off the Opening Day jitters.
Ragans was originally slated to start in Thursday night’s scheduled season opener against the Boise Hawks, but his minor league debut was delayed a day because of rain. In Friday’s official season opener, Ragans finally got a chance to prove himself as one of the top picks in 2016.
Ragans, the Texas Rangers’ first-round pick in the 2016 Major League Baseball draft, put himself on the Rangers’ radar early in his high school career. A standout left-handed pitcher from Crawfordville, Florida, Ragans was named to the Perfect Game All-American Classic team and second-team National High School Baseball Coaches Association All-American in 2016.
That year, Ragans sported a 0.90 ERA in 70 innings as a senior at North Florida Christian High School. He allowed 31 hits and accumulated 104 strikeouts throughout the season.
After the draft, Texas sent Ragans to the Rangers’ rookie league team in the Arizona League. The AZL is an opportunity for young players, particularly those like Ragans who were drafted right out of high school, to work out in a professional league that usually plays in front of much smaller crowds.
In the AZL, Ragans started two games and pitched in two others throughout a roughly six-week long season. In 7 2/3 innings, Ragans had a 4.70 ERA and nine strikeouts. He issued six walks and allowed 11 hits.
Friday night’s 5-4 loss to the Boise Hawks in front 6,569 Spokane fans wasn’t quite the outing Ragans said he had hoped for in his minor league debut.
It was “very nerve wracking … that’s the biggest crowd I’ve pitched in front of by far,” Ragans said. “I’ve never pitched in front of 7,000 fans. I mean, you’ve got fans everywhere you look, it’s loud. Just never have pitched in front of something like that.”
The 19-year-old Ragans allowed four runs over four innings on Friday on three hits and six walks. He started the night by walking Boise’s Steve Linkous, who then stole second and moved to third on a wild pitch. He eventually scored the Hawks’ first run on a fielder’s choice grounder to second baseman Kole Enright.
The Hawks scored three more runs on Ragans in the third, including a two-run home run that Jonathan Piron sent over the right-field wall.
Ragans wasn’t the only minor-league newbie who seemed to have butterflies on Friday. First-year Indians manager Matt Hagen said the majority of his players took a while to shake the nerves in the beginning of the game.
“It’s just Opening Day nerves,” Hagen said. “The guys just really want to perform and do well … I think that’s just a natural reaction going out there and just being a little bit nervous.”
The Indians nearly scored in the second when Chad Smith attempted to steal third, but Jonah McReynolds was called out in the batter’s box for batter’s interference after a throw to third from Boise catcher Christian Correa appeared to have ricocheted off of McReynolds’ bat. The interference kept Smith from scoring and ended the inning with a third out.
First baseman Andretty Cordero got the Indians on the board in the sixth inning with a two-run home run that cleared the left-field wall.
The Indians piled on three more runs in the seventh, beginning with Cristian Inoa’s double to left field that brought home two runs. Spokane slugger Curtis Terry equalized the score at 4-4 with another RBI double to center field.
The Hawks took the lead back in the 10th inning on a hit deflected off of Spokane pitcher Grant Zawadzki’s glove. Inoa wasn’t able to recover the ball quick enough to throw out Linkous at home.
Spokane collected 10 hits on Friday and held the Hawks to eight. Codero and Enright led the Indians with a pair of hits apiece.
The Indians host the Hawks again on Saturday at 6:30 p.m.
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