FARMINGTON — Kirtland native and Kirtland Central alum Jalen Nakai will start on the mound for the Farmington Frackers in the nightcap of Saturday's doubleheader against the Nevada Jays.
Saturday's start will be the second for Nakai, who graduated from KC in 2013 and spent the past four seasons playing for Bacon College in Muskogee, Okla. He started on the mound for the Frackers last weekend against the California Jays, and after a shaky first inning settled in and found a comfort zone on the mound he frequented as a high schooler playing against Farmington High and Piedra Vista.
"I was nervous at first, but after I noticed how good of a defense I have behind me it was time to go to work," Nakai said.
Nakai struggled with his command and fell behind in the count, and gave up a couple runs in the first two innings of last weekend's game against California.
"He wasn't getting ahead early. When you go down 2-0 or 3-1, it makes it really hard to be successful," Frackers' pitching coach Alex DeAngeles said. "When he started getting 0-1 and 1-2 counts he started to get the swings we want instead of the swings the hitters are looking for. It's not like he all of the sudden just got better, he just figured out how to get ahead, and when you get the first strike under your belt you got a chance to succeed."
After settling down following the first couple innings, Nakai started hitting his spots. Keeping California's bats quiet, Nakai became the beneficiary of the Frackers' explosive offense that cracked double-digit runs in four of the six games against California.
The Frackers went on to win that game 12-4.
Staying composed on the mound Saturday night will be key for Nakai to pick up a win. The Nevada Jays, based out of Las Vegas, appear to possess a more boisterous lineup than their California counterpart and posted eight runs on 14 hits in Thursday night's series opener against the Frackers.
In the days leading up to Saturday's game, Nakai and DeAngeles have been focusing on fine tuning the right-hander's mechanics and fixing little hitches in his windup that led to some of the control issues last week.
"In his bullpens this week we talked a lot about tempo to the plate. He gets going a little bit quick and his leg lift, he often starts going toward the plate before getting his leg all the way up to his balance point," DeAngeles said. "And we talked a lot more about having a plan for each pitch and not getting ahead of himself."
The first of Saturday's games is scheduled to start at 4 p.m. at Ricketts Park. Nakai's nightcap is scheduled for 6:30.
Karl Schneider is the sports editor for The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4648.