Alexander, Cardinals in control

Senior Jason Alexander works out during practice at Cardinal Newman on Monday. (BETH SCHLANKER/ PD) By PHIL BARBER
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

The day he joined the junior varsity baseball team as a freshman, Jason Alexander couldn’t figure out why everyone was calling him “George” and grinning. It took a while to dawn on him: Jason Alexander is also the name of the actor who played George Costanza on “Seinfeld.”

That Jason Alexander is short, pudgy, balding and acerbic. This Jason Alexander is tall, lean, athletic, he comes across as fairly soft spoken and he’s emerged as Cardinal Newman’s ace pitcher.

Alexander took a 0.16 earned-run average into last Thursday’s showdown with red-hot Montgomery. And then he went one better, taking a perfect game into the sixth inning before settling for a two-hit shutout. Alexander struck out nine Vikings and walked none in Newman’s 4-0 win, improving his record to 7-1 on the season.

Alexander’s ERA has now dipped to 0.14 — a number more properly associated with a dominant softball pitcher than a boy chucking the ball 60 feet, 6 inches. For a while, it looked like he might carry a goose egg for the entire season. He didn’t give up his first earned run until his 33rd inning of the season, in a victory over Santa Rosa on April 6.

“I don’t think about it while I’m pitching games, but I follow up on the stats after games,” Alexander said. “I knew when that guy scored that my streak ended. … I was kind of depressed about giving it up. I wanted to see how far I could go leaving it at zero.”

Of course, Alexander’s disappointment didn’t manifest on the mound. That’s not his style.
Ask his senior battery-mate, catcher Brandon Calos. They played together as 12-year-olds for the Windsor Little League Blue Jays, along with current Cardinal Newman players Connor Williams and Lucas Murphy. Calos acknowledges that Alexander has improved by long strides on the field, but remembers a teammate that was always mature beyond his years.

“He’s still the same hardworking guy,” Calos said. “If there’s something wrong, he’ll stay after and work in the pen. One thing I liked about him was that he always picked his teammates up, no matter what happened. If he did something wrong, he would acknowledge that. And if someone else did something bad, he’d be the first to say, ‘Don’t worry about it. I gotcha.’ ”

One thing in Alexander’s favor: Two of his older brothers, Stuart and Scott, were elite pitchers. (Jason followed Scott to Cardinal Newman and might follow Stuart to Santa Rosa JC.) Watching his brother helped instill a cool presence on the mound.

“A lot of pitchers out there, they get in their own head, and they start thinking and they start showing body language, really show they’re disappointed,” Calos said. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen him down. He always keeps his composure. If he gives up a hit, gives up a run, he’s back there on the mound. Bad call, he doesn’t show any emotion.”

Alexander is an experienced vet by now, in his third season as a Cardinals starter. He was 9-1 as a sophomore sensation, and 5-5 last year for a team that wasn’t as dominant. He has always been a fastball-changeup-curve guy who throws hard, but mostly tries to get groundballs with his two-seam fastball.

The difference this year is that Alexander has more clearly established his curveball.

“The command of his curve has been very important this year,” Cardinal Newman coach T.J. McMahon said. “He’s throwing it for strikes. When you’ve got hitters guessing, a fastball in the high 80s looks like it’s in the 90s.”

Alexander is far from being a one-man team for the Cardinals, who sit atop the North Bay League with a 6-1 record (13-4 overall). McMahon said he has been nicely surprised by his team’s hitting this year. Newman is batting .320 as a team, and three starters are up above .350 – Steven Tomasin at .366, Nolan Formway at .372 and Brian Albin (like Tomasin, a football standout last fall) at a team-leading .410.

Formway, a fleet outfielder who leads the Cardinals in runs and stolen bases, is currently sitting out with a back strain, but they have hardly skipped a beat in his absence. McMahon’s team is as deep as usual, with unexpected contributions coming both on the mound and in the batter’s box.

“I still think we’re a very well-rounded team,” the coach said. “We’ve got pitching, we’ve got depth in pitching. Got a good balance of juniors and seniors, got guys that can come off the bench in key spots and help us, whether it’s on the mound or at the plate.”

One of McMahon’s only problems this year is that, with Alexander and second starter J.J. Jameson throwing so well, his other pitchers aren’t getting as much action as he’d like. Alexander can’t really help with that one. For all his humility, he’s not about to look to the bench when he gets in trouble.

“I like the feeling of having pressure and trying to get out of situations,” he said.

You can reach Staff Writer Phil Barber at 521-5263 or phil.barber@pressdemocract.com.