After rocky start, Naranjo fitting into pitching role

ERIC WALKER/The Mayfield Messenger

Jordyn Naranjo, shown practicing prior to the start of the Fulton Railroaders' season, currently has a 1.80 ERA with 12 strikeouts and two hits in five innings of work as a reliever.

FULTON -- After three games and five innings of sitting in dugouts, Jordyn Naranjo was a little bit anxious to get back onto the pitcher's mound.

He ran onto the field last Wednesday with an 8-5 Fulton lead. Three balls and a strike later, the Franklin Duelers cut the lead to two runs off a home run over the right wall at the Railroaders' Lohaus Field.

Naranjo, who had walked across the graduation stage at Graves County High School just three weeks earlier, suddenly questioned himself.

"After that first batter hit the ball, I thought to myself, 'Do I really belong in this league?,'" he recalled.

The assessment of pitching coach Hunter Smith wasn't quite that dire.

"I was like it's either going to be really good or really bad," Smith said, laughing. "Half of me was thinking he's got it out of the way now, or he's going to get flustered and it's going to be a nervous breakdown."

Naranjo took the former route. "Then I tried to settle down and make good pitches."

And he did. The former Eagle ace and future Murray State Racer, struck out his next six batters as Fulton went on to win, 9-7.

In Naranjo's next outing, on Saturday against Henderson's Flash, he pitched three innings and near replicated his stat line with a hit, a run and six Ks, but with three base on balls in Fulton's 12-2 win.

With the Railroaders sitting with a 5-3 record heading into Tuesday's Ohio Valley League game at Muhlenberg County, Naranjo has a 1.80 ERA over five innings of work in two wins.

"He was lights out, and every time we've put him back in, he's been lights out," Smith said. "You can't ask much more from a pitcher."

"That first game, I had a lot more nerves up there on the mound," Naranjo said. "The second time, I was more calm, more relaxed out there and the momentum from that first game really helped me."

Smith, who pitched at the University of Memphis, said that's the maturation process Naranjo is developing to get a jump on his college preparation. He is one of two recent high school graduates on the Railroaders' roster with Hickman County's Sam Gallimore being the other.

"Not a whole lot of guys do that," Smith said of playing in a summer collegiate baseball league. "(Naranjo's) maturing early in terms of facing college hitters who are two or three years older than him.

"He's got the stuff to compete with them," he added. "He's just got to understand when he needs to calm down and control it."

Naranjo recognizes that, as well. Just in his two games, he said the experience has already encouraged him to be more mindful of how he needs to step up his game between now and joining the Racers this fall.

"There's going to be a time when I'll get behind in the count and I can't give up a throw a meat fastball across the middle of the plate or they're going to take it for a ride," he said.

Even working as a reliever is fine in Naranjo's mind after a 6-2 record as a 2.059 ERA starter with Graves County. And Smith said the approach also has the seal of approval from Murray State coaches Dan Skirka and Tanner Gordon.

"I don't want to overdo him before he gets to a college setting, so I reached out to them and they told me the role we have him in now is exactly what they want him in," he noted. "He's going along perfectly with the plan."

Both Smith and Railroaders skipper Tanner Wessling, who played ball at Tennessee-Martin, want to continue to work on Naranjo's development of a split-change pitch to complement his fastball and curveball arsenal.

"If you can command at least two (pitches), you can be successful," Smith said. "If he can figure out how to develop that third pitch consistently, he'll be a threat through his college career."

Eric Walker is the sports editor for The Mayfield Messenger. He has also worked as a staff writer for the Messenger, editor for the Murray Ledger & Times, and in public relations. He is married with two sons.