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Journey To Major League Mound

SPORTS STORIES OF THE DECADE 2010-2019 by Mark Humphrey ENTERPRISE-LEADER | January 15, 2020 at 12:00 p.m.
MARK HUMPHREY ENTERPRISE-LEADER Tampa Bay Rays left-handed pitcher Jalen Beeks, a 2011 graduate of Prairie Grove High School and former Arkansas Razorback, attended the Prairie Grove versus West Fork basketball games Friday, Dec. 7, 2018. At halftime of the boys' game, Beeks drew the winning ticket from a raffle of his Tampa Bay jersey No. 68 and presented the framed prize to Marcresa Hattenhauer, a band mom, who purchased the winning ticket.

PRAIRIE GROVE -- The biggest story coming out of Prairie Grove for the past decade, 2010-2019, featured 2011 Tiger graduate Jalen Beeks carving out a niche as Major League pitcher.

Throughout his professional baseball career Beeks' penchant to adapt and overcome served him well as he revolutionized his pitches and roles.

Bulk Reliever

During his first full season with the Tampa Bay Rays, Beeks became a key cog in the pitching rotation while moving to bulk reliever.

Due to a rash of injuries to the pitching staff, Tampa Bay frequently utilized Beeks as a bulk reliever after beginning with an opener in 2019. Instead of having a starter go as long as he remained effective, the opener pitched one or two innings depending upon his pitch count. Opportunities to get a quality start or earn a win weren't there for the opener although taking a loss was possible.

The Rays tried to stretch relievers, aggressively reallocating multi-inning relievers with Beeks in the thick of the mix.

On May 1, 2019, Ryne Stanek pitched the first inning giving up 3 runs on 3 hits and was charged with the loss while Beeks pitched 6.1 scoreless innings giving Tampa Bay a chance against the Royals.

Although the Rays eventually lost 3-2, the strategy employed by Rays' skipper Kevin Cash proved largely successful with Tampa Bay finishing 96-66, second in the American League East. Beeks went 6-3 with a 4.31 ERA appearing in 33 games with 3 starts while pitching 104.1 innings and throwing 89 strike-outs.

Beeks' emergence as a reliable bulk reliever solidified his value as a major league pitcher in 2019. He is expected to again play the role of a contributor in 2020 after refining his change-up last season.

Journey To MLB Mound

Coming out of Prairie Grove High School, Beeks pitched at Crowder Junior College in 2012 posting a 6-3 record with 1 save and a 3.32 ERA. He struck out 90 batters in 78.2 innings then transferred to the University of Arkansas.

As a Razorback sophomore Beeks allowed only 10 runs while compiling a 6-2 record with a 2.20 ERA and 28 strikeouts sporting a team-high 29 appearances as a reliever. He allowed less than a hit per inning, giving up 33 hits in 41 innings. Beeks ranked tied for 15th in the SEC in wins and tied for 12th in appearances. In conference games, Beeks produced a 3-1 record with a 1.83 ERA and held SEC opponents to a .156 batting average.

In his junior season at Arkansas, Beeks lowered his ERA to 1.98 in 81 innings. He went 6-4 with 81 strikeouts although he missed the SEC tournament due to injury.

Boston drafted Beeks in the 12th round in 2014. His journey included stints at various Red Sox affiliates.

Cutter Issues

Beeks' faith helped get him through a rough stretch where one of his pitches became difficult to execute successfully.

In 2016 as a minor league pitcher endeavoring to do everything he could to make the big leagues Beeks found himself in the midst of a challenge. His ERA in Double A while competing for the Portland Sea Dogs was .468 and the pitch had lost its tumble. The pitch was not working so Beeks, who became a born-again Christian in 2012 after graduating from Prairie Grove High School in May of 2011, relied on his faith in God.

"He can revive anything, obviously, but just relying on him through baseball because it's such a stressful job you have to rely on him and just trust that he's with you even though I struggled with that pitch for three months and he can bring it back," Beeks said. "It was the cutter that you're talking about that I struggled with and it was just really up and down."

The cutter ended up being one of Beeks' best pitches during the 2017 season and helped him get to the big leagues.

"So he uses whatever he wants in whatever way he wants," Beeks said.

Beeks lists Psalm 120:1 on his Twitter account, "I call on the Lord in my distress and He answers me."

As a Major League pitcher, Beeks focuses on the task at hand. If he gives up a hit or allows an opponent to produce something from a quality at-bat that can't stay with him.

Romans 12:2 instructs the believer, "Be not conformed to the image of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind."

For Beeks the message is simple.

"That's saying 'flush it.' Just be done with it. You got to move on and you got to turn around. Your team depends on you like in basketball you got to get back on D and be ready for the next possession. Same thing in baseball. If I give up a 3-run home run I still got to pitch the rest of the game. I'm not coming out," Beeks said. "We have a game. I still got to go ... I think you can use scripture for any part of your life."

Beeks began 2018 as a starting pitcher among the Triple A Pawtucket, Mass., rotation. Twice he was called up to Major League Baseball for outings with the Boston Red Sox making his Major League debut on June 7, 2018, as a starter throwing 3.1 innings for Boston in a 7-2 loss to the Detroit Tigers.

On July 25, 2018, Beeks was traded to Tampa Bay where he went 5-0 during a partial season with the Rays setting the stage to make an impact in 2019.

Sports on 01/15/2020

Print Headline: Journey To Major League Mound

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