2009-08-27 / Sports

Testa looks forward to baseball playoffs

Pitcher from Jackson invited by Twins to instructional league
BY WAYNE WITKOWSKI Staff Writer

Joe Testa of Jackson is headed to the playoffs soon in what has been a successful season for the local hurler, who is playing with the Fort Myers Miracle in the Florida State League.

The Miracle is a High A minor league team in the Minnesota Twins organization.

Testa, a set-up man working out of the bullpen, got some good news recently when he was invited by the Twins to participate in an instructional league that will begin Sept. 16 and extend to Oct. 16 at Fort Myers.

"That's definitely a good thing; hopefully, I'll start off in Double-A next year," said Testa, a former standout pitcher at Brick Township High School and Wagner College, Staten Island, N.Y.

Finishing the 2009 season strongly in the instructional league will boost the young pitcher's hopes.

"All the big league guys are there. It's good to play in front of people like that," said Testa, one of four players from the Miracle to be invited to the instructional league, along with a starting pitcher and two bighitting infielders.

Testa has shown great adaptability throwing to four different catchers who have rotated into that position during the season.

"I've been getting comfortable with a good defense behind me," said Testa, who has relied on a fastball and a cutter, but also has used a curveball and a change-up that he has been developing this summer with the Miracle's pitching coach.

"Everything is going well. I'm striking out a bunch of people and keeping hits under innings [pitched] and keeping the [opposing] batting average as low as I can," said Testa, who has settled into his set-up role after pitching the past two years as a starter and as a closer at times.

In 29 innings pitched coming into this week, Testa had a 3-0 record and a 3-1 strikeout-to-walk ratio (44 strikeouts, 13 walks). He has a 1.23 ERA and has held hitters to a batting average below .200 while allowing 24 hits.

"Usually I throw two innings each time," he said. "And we won 11 of 14 coming into last weekend, so it's going pretty good right now. We're hitting a lot, and our starting pitchers go seven or eight innings and have not had a bad start in a long time, so they've been going deep into the game and they have not had to use the bullpen much."

The Miracle, which won the championship of the first half of the Florida State League season to ensure a spot in the fourteam playoffs, have overtaken formidable rival Brevard in recent weeks to move back into first place in the second half of the season. The playoffs will begin Sept. 7.

When Testa gets the call, he makes the most of his opportunity. In his last two outings, he struck out the side in order in the first inning he pitched and struck out two batters in the next inning.

Testa hopes to keep the team hot and help the Miracle get back into the championship series, where they lost, 7-6, in the third and final game last season.

Testa came in to pitch 2.2 innings of shutout relief in his third stint out of the bullpen in Game 2 of the championship series last September, allowing two hits with one strikeout.

He has been working his way back this season after starting off in Low A ball in Beloit, Wisc., and made the Midwest League All-Star team before getting called back up to the Miracle shortly after that.

Testa earned his promotion to the Florida State League with a 2.56 ERA and 63 strikeouts in 45.2 innings pitching for the Beloit Snappers. At one point, opposing batters were hitting only .148 over his first 35.1 innings pitched.

With the Miracle last season, Testa was 3-0 as a starter and had a save in 28 innings, striking out 30 and walking eight with a 3.18 ERA. In his professional debut as a starter, Testa pitched five innings in which he allowed three hits, including a solo home run, with three strikeouts and two walks.

He had gone from being a reliever in Rookie League ball to a starter for two games with the Miracle and ended up again as a reliever.

"Even though I like starting better, it's tough to relieve. It's a lot different," Testa has said. "When you start, you set the tone, but if you relieve in a tight game, you have to get up for it."

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