By JED WEISBERGER
TRENTON, NJ – Trenton Thunder right-hander Erik Swanson will always have Aug. 1, 2016, cemented in his memory.
He and his Hickory Crawdads (Texas Class-A) teammates were to play the Delmarva Shorebirds in a South Atlantic League game in L.P. Frans Stadium in a picturesque part of Central-Western North Carolina.
But the second Swanson and teammate Dillon Tate arrived at L.P. Frans, they were intercepted and told to report to Crawdads manager Steve Mintz in his office.
“Dillon and I were called into the office together,’’ said Swanson, 24, a native of Terrace Park, Ohio, who was selected by Texas in the eighth round of the 2014 draft out of Iowa Western Community College. “We were told we were traded to the Yankees.
“The New York Yankees! We were really excited.’’
Tate the headliner, Swanson, and fellow right-hander Nick Green, who was pitching at Northwest League Spokane, all headed to the Charleston RiverDogs to finish the 2016 season as Yankees farmhands, as Carlos Beltran joined the Texas Rangers.
Swanson and Tate are again teammates with the Trenton Thunder, the Yankees’ Double-A club, with Green off to a 3-0, 1.55 start at Class-A Advanced Tampa looking to join them.
While Tate (1-2, 4.60) is coming off his best start of the season, a 7-inning effort May 8 in which he allowed Reading just two runs and six hits, Swanson has emerged as perhaps the best pitcher in the Eastern League.
Swanson, in six appearances (five starts) and 34.2 innings, has an Eastern League-leading ERA of 0.52. He has allowed just 18 hits, struck out 44 and walked 11. He threw seven scoreless innings at Richmond May 10, striking out nine, allowing only three hits and walking two in a no-decision.
It was the third start in which he did not allow an earned run, surrendering just two so far in 2018. He put together an 11-strikeout game in a win against Harrisburg in Trenton April 23. He has not allowed a home run, nor has he hit a batter.
‘’Erik has done a marvelous job,’’ said Thunder manager Jay Bell. “It goes back to last year. It’s his desire to get better and learn.”
“He has a good, (92-94 mph) live fastball. We taught him that he needed to make sure he commanded it down in the zone, which made it much more of a quality pitch. He worked and worked and worked and had great spring training.”
Swanson, at 6-foot-3, 235, made a lot of progress at Tampa in 2017 despite dealing with a hip-flexor injury suffered in spring training that bothered him during the season. It limited him to 101.1 innings and a 7-3, 3.95 mark in 20 starts.
Still, he put together a strikeout/walk ratio of 84/14 without really being able to throw his curve.
“With Texas, I threw a fastball, change and a slider,’’ said Swanson. “The Yankees wanted me to throw a curve, rather than a slider, and this year, I’m feeling great and it’s coming along. I’m getting really comfortable with it.’’
His fastball and change are rated as solid, which explains why he was effective last season with only two pitches, and why he has emerged in 2018.
“I study the hitters and try to get to know them before I pitch against them,’’ said Swanson. “I’ve faced a lot of them before, and I think I can pick up their tendencies.
“I enjoy challenging them.’’
The 2018 Thunder are having fun, winning 20 of their first 32 games under Bell.
“We have a great clubhouse,’’ said Swanson. “We see guys who came through here and are playing in Yankee Stadium. We want to follow them.
“As for me this season, I’m just working to get better with everything I’m doing.’’
That’s good news for both the Thunder and Yankees, but not so much for the rest of the Eastern League at this point.