The Phillies' No. 10 prospect relies on his command and the infield's defense. Throwing strikes is crucial to his success.
"That's one of my strengths," Pettibone said, "is getting ahead of hitters."
Melky Mesa knows this too.
Pettibone pitched a career-high 8 2/3 scoreless innings -- then Mesa lifted Pettibone's final pitch (the first of the at-bat) over the right-field fence -- in Double-A Reading's 5-1 victory Wednesday afternoon over the visiting Trenton Thunder.
"I did well against him in his first three at-bats, so I was feeling good. It was a just a fastball, outer half, and I thought it was decent pitch," the starter said. "He got it. I was hoping it'd stay in the park. Then I saw [manager] Dusty [Wathan] coming out of the dugout.
"I know going 8 2/3 strong was a plus, but that was tough. That hurt."
Pettibone (2-3) struck out five and recorded 11 groundouts while yielding just four hits before Mesa, who also singled in the fourth, muddled it all.
"I had everything going from the start," said Pettibone, who threw 66 of his 108 pitches in the strike zone and retired nine straight through the middle innings. "My fastball-changeup command was great, and I mixed my slider in throughout the game. I pitched to contact, and my defense made plays. That's one of the things that I look for as a pitcher -- groundball outs."
On three occasions earlier in his four-year career, Pettibone, Philadelphia's third-round draftee in 2008, had pitched eight innings. Most recently, as a member of the Class A Advanced Clearwater Threshers on July 3, he gave up three unearned runs on five hits in a win over Lakeland.
The 21-year-old right-hander was seeking his second ever complete game. He registered an eight-inning complete game while pitching for the Class A Lakewood BlueClaws on July 7, 2010: He allowed two runs on four hits while striking out seven in a loss to Greensboro.
"This was one of my best outings," Pettibone said of his Wednesday work. "It would have been nice to get that final out."
Pettibone established bests in wins (10) and ERA (2.96) in 27 starts at Clearwater last season, improving his prospect stock. Through seven outings at Reading, his ERA is a full run higher (3.98). He had been charged with five or more runs in each of his previous three games, and walks seemed to be the problem: With two more free passes on Wednesday, he has issued 15 in 40 2/3 innings.
"In this start, it just went back to attacking the hitter. In previous ones, I was trying to be too fine," Pettibone said. "You can't fall behind Double-A batters.
"A few things didn't go my way the last couple of starts. I had everything going with this one. It was a solid effort, and hopefully I can build on it."
Lisalberto Bonilla threw two pitches to record the game's 27th out in Pettibone's stead.
Thunder starter Shaeffer Hall (2-4) was not as sharp, as he was charged with five runs -- three earned -- on five hits over seven frames.
Phils' first baseman Daren Ruf struck Hall's 10th pitch of the game for a two-run home run. Ruf also singled home two runs in the third inning and led off the eighth with a double to complete his 3-for-3, four-RBI performance.
Ruf is batting an Eastern League-leading .389 through 31 games.
"He's been great all year, so it was no surprise him putting us up early with the home run," Pettibone said. "You kind of expect that from him. He's one of the best hitters in the league. I'm glad I don't have to face him."