Just seven starts into his Triple-A career, Dan Straily admits he's still learning. Does that mean the Minors' top strikeout artist could actually get even better?
"I'm just trying to be as complete a pitcher as I can be," said Straily, an Oakland prospect who leads the Minor Leagues with 162 strikeouts in 128 innings. "Today, I didn't have all my stuff today, it didn't even make sense that I had nine strikeouts."
Straily was not the only one left baffled in Sacramento on Monday, as he whiffed nine batters and held Tucson to three hits over six innings for his fourth win as the Triple-A River Cats blanked the Padres, 6-0, at Raley Field.
Straily has emerged in the Oakland system as a legit Major League prospect. A 24th-round pick in 2009 out of Marshall, he has been the best strikeout pitcher in baseball today -- he has more K's this season than Major League leader Felix Hernandez (143), Justin Verlander (142) and Stephen Strasburg (140).
Monday's start was the result of Straily patching together outs on a day he didn't feel on the top of his game. He walked one, throwing 65 of his 93 pitches for strikes.
"I didn't feel like I had my best stuff," the 23-year-old from Oregon said. "I couldn't locate a lot of fastballs, but I had just enough to get them off balance."
Straily cruised through six frames, allowing doubles in the first and fifth innings before giving up a one-out single in the sixth.
The righty has struck out seven batters or more in six of his seven Triple-A starts since leaving the Texas League, where he still ranks No. 2 in K's despite having departed Double-A Midland over a month ago. While there, he claimed he wasn't a strikeout pitcher in college.
Has he changed his mind on that thought yet?
"Absolutely not, I refuse to," he said with a laugh. "It's just a product of making pitches, developing pitches, throwing swing-and-miss pitches. Every pitch has purpose, and I'm just trying to get some rollovers. I can't help if they miss it."
Still, Straily doesn't exactly mind the stats either.
"I'd be kidding myself if, when I get two strikes on a batter, that I'm not trying to strike him out," he said. "But most of the time, runner on first, I'm not trying to strike that guy out."
"He told me he was going to beat me in strikeouts this season," A's starter A.J. Griffin told the San Francisco Chronicle last week. "He was dead serious when he said that. And he's got a zillion of them."
Straily could be a candidate to reach Oakland this season, depending on what moves the A's make by the trade deadline next week.
"They'll do it when they want to," he said. "I've definitely seen a lot of guys beat themselves up when they think they should be promoted or called up. And when they do that, they start playing [poorly]. I've made it a point that I'm not expecting anything -- I expect to be here the rest of the year. It would be awesome [to get promoted], don't get me wrong. But they're going to wait until I'm ready. It's a whole different world up there, and I realize I'm only 23 and that would make me the youngest pitcher on their staff. I'm not upset I'm not there."
Straily has dominated the Pacific Coast League, striking out 13 on July 13 against Las Vegas and 10 in six innings on July 1 against Colorado Springs. He has 63 strikeouts in 47 innings since joining the Cats.
Corpus Christi's Jose Cisnero only recently surpassed Straily for the strikeout lead in the Texas League, where the righty had 108 in 85 1/3 frames.
"I just got a text from a friend who said I finally got passed by a guy from Corpus Christi," Straily laughed.
Straily said his fastball velocity was down Monday, topping out at 92 mph. He uses the heater to set up a changeup, a combination he says has worked better against more selective Triple-A hitters as compared to the free-swinging hackers of the lower levels. It's been an adjustment for him to learn how to pitch to more skilled batters.
"I couldn't get a guy to swing at a slider out of the zone," he said of his time at Class A. "I'm starting to learn how to set myself up for that. They're better hitters. It's kinda weird my strikeouts have been up, but also with my changeup, I haven't had an outing where it hasn't been here at Triple-A. That's been my bread and butter, fastball-change. I'm not trying to overpower everybody."
Straily also deflected credit to Sacramento catcher Anthony Recker, who he said is always on the same page with him.
"I've only shook him off four times in six starts," he said. "He's calling a great game, so I'm leaning on his veteran leadership. He's done a great job for me."