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Hovis, a right-hander from the University of North Carolina, was signed as a free agent after pitching in the College World Series where his Tar Heels lost in the championship game to Oregon State, and Omana, a lefty from Venezuela was signed as an undrafted free agent in 2001 and pitched in the Gulf Coast League before being promoted.
“They're going to fit right in,” said manager Gaylen Pitts of his new bullpen reinforcements. “One's right-handed, one's left-handed and both guys are throwing already. Hovis more than Omana, but they'll both help us.”
Hovis, while signing autographs for a slew of fans before the game, said that he was excited to be in Staten Island and looked forward to helping the team.
“I haven’t been here long but I’m loving it,“ said the South Carolina native. “It’s a great team and a great city. They’ve got a beautiful ballpark here and a lot of fan support. I couldn't ask for a better environment.”
Used as a closer at various junctures, Hovis went 8-2 with a 1.17 earned run average last year and accrued seven saves in his collegiate career. That role though, is already filled by Nick Peterson, so he will serve as a setup man for the Yankees.
So far so good as he’s yet to allow a run in seven appearances and has held opponents to a .156 batting average. He pitched two scoreless innings of relief in Tuesday night’s come-from-behind victory over Williamsport.
“He was a closer in college so he's used to being in pressure situations,” said Pitts. A sinker-baller with a sidearm delivery, he said that he used to throw “high three-quarter” but while in college, his coaches changed his motion believing it would make him more effective.
“My first year they moved me down a little bit,” said Hovis. “I'm kind of short for a pitcher (5-foot-11) so they felt I'd be able to get a little more sink and keep the ball low that way.”
He also features a 4-seam fastball, which was clocked at 91 miles-per-hour on July 17th, a slider and a changeup.
“He’s got that sidearm motion, and that can be deceptive, and he throws a great sinker,” said Carlos Chantres, his pitching coach. “He just needs to work on the slider.”
Asked if there would be any difficulty in Hovis getting on top of the slider while delivering the pitch from a sidearm angle, Chantres refuted the notion.
“Actually, it helps,“ he explained. “You throw sidearm with your wrist already being sideways, it gives you a natural sink so he doesn't have to turn it or do anything more. Just the wrist angle takes control of that path.”
"It's pretty much the same,” said Hovis, in agreement with his coach. “You just have to try to get extended a little bit more. If you open up, it normally stays flat, but if you get extended properly, it has a lot more sink.”
He realizes that as the setup man, he won’t always enter games in ideal circumstances and hopes that the sinker will help him escape jams quickly.
“I look for early contact and I want to get them out with as few pitches as I can,” he said. “Hopefully I can get a lot of ground outs and induce some double plays when we need them.”
Omana, who hasn’t surrendered a run and has struck out four batters in two innings since joining the Yankees, will be used as a middle reliever and lefty specialist.
His arsenal features a fastball, slider and what his teammate Tim Norton described as a “real good power change.”
“The changeup is his best pitch right now,” said Chantres. “It’s his specialty and it’s been very effective so far.”
“He’s been thrown into the fire and done well,” said Pitts. “He's had two outings so far and has gotten the job done so I can’t complain."
“We're going to use him for certain left-handed hitters late in games and he'll eat up innings sometimes because he can get right-handers out too.”
As for his weaknesses, Chantres said that he needs to improve his fastball.
“He needs to work on command of it,” he said. “He has to throw it for strikes. It's kind of early to tell, but that's what I saw in his last game. He was flying open a little bit.”
Much like the New York Yankees, the Baby Bombers had slumped early and fell behind in the standings before righting the ship.
However, the team has won nine of its last ten games, including a recent 5-1 road trip in which they swept the Oneonta Tigers, who had previously been atop the Stedler division. At 17-11, they have the second best record in the New York-Penn League and hold a half-game lead over the Ironbirds for the division lead.
The Yankees stellar pitching (3.05 team ERA) has sustained while the offense has caught fire in the last two weeks.
The No. 3 and 4 hitters, Mitch Hilligoss and Kyle Larsen, whose batting averages had dipped to .250 and .205 on July 10th, are now hitting .316 and .276 respectively. Larsen leads the league with 27 RBI and Hilligoss’ 19 runs scored ranks second.
“Hard work. The players are working real hard,“ said hitting coach Ty Hawkins. “We've made some small tweaks here and there, get a few things in the right spots, but nothing big.
I hate to sound cliché, but we just take it one game at a time.”
Tim Norton added, “A lot of the guys coming from college were using aluminum (bats) so it takes a while getting used to swinging wood and they're doing that now.”
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