The list of similarities between Jesse Darrah and Robert Stephenson wasn't exactly a long one at the start of Tuesday's Midwest League matchup.
They're both right-handed pitchers taken in the 2011 Draft. They both have roots in California. They share the same agent -- Matt Sosnick -- and they both started the season in the same league. But the list ends there.
Stephenson -- the Reds' No. 2 prospect and MLB.com's No. 51 overall -- has been highly touted since Cincinnati selected him 27th overall, thanks to an excellent fastball, an above-average curveball and a healthy changeup.
When Darrah -- the D-backs' 2011 eighth-rounder who struggled in his full-season debut last year -- arrived at Coveleski Stadium on Tuesday afternoon, he knew he'd have to be at the top of his game.
"I knew he was a big-time pitcher, a real big-time prospect, but I don't let that stuff get to me," he said. "I didn't focus on him at all before or during the game. It's always cool to size yourself up against the best of the best and I try to come in with a chip on my shoulder."
That strategy proved effective Tuesday.
Darrah struck out eight and allowed one hit over seven innings to get the win in Class A South Bend's 1-0 victory over Dayton. Stephenson took the loss, despite striking out nine and giving up one run on five hits in five frames.
The only hit allowed by the Silver Hawks' starter was a one-out double by shortstop Zach Vincej in the fourth inning. The eight punchouts matched Darrah's second-highest single-game total, bested only by the 11 he recorded last June 1 at Dayton, while the seven innings equaled a career high.
It was the 23-year-old right-hander's second consecutive solid start after he gave up an unearned run on two hits over six frames last Thursday against Bowling Green on Opening Day. Albeit in a small sample, Darrah has held opponents to a .071 (3-for-42) average without allowing an earned run through two starts.
That follows a difficult full-season debut with South Bend in 2012 when he went 8-5 with a 4.65 ERA and .258 opponents' average.
"Obviously, I had my struggles here last year," Darrah said. "But getting two great starts under my belt, it really shows I can pitch here, and that was important to me to start out the year. It's definitely a good confidence-booster."
Silver Hawks manager Mark Haley may have had a hand in getting Darrah off on the right foot by starting him on Opening Day, giving him a chance to match up with other Midwest League aces. The Fresno Pacific product acknowledged that the gesture could have long-reaching effects.
"That was great," Darrah said. "It was cool coming back to the same stadium and to get a little recognition as a guy coming back. It was a packed house, too, which was a good adrenaline boost. Now, because of that, it'll be cool going up against the best the other teams have to offer and seeing where I stack up."
But beyond encouragement from the club and the competition, there have been more physical explanations for Darrah's early turnaround.
After using a fastball-curveball-changeup-slider mix in 2012, the 22-year-old sat down with Silver Hawks pitching coach Wellington Cepeda and decided to drop the curveball because it had lost its effectiveness and even caused him pain to throw.
The result is a three-pitch repertoire that has been much simpler to control and has led to much better pitching lines, ones good enough to beat the best the Midwest League has to offer.
"It's just easier for me as a pitcher," Darrah said. "I don't have to think as much about what to use. I know I have a pretty good fastball, a pretty good changeup and a pretty good slider. All three can be used to get outs and they've been working great for me so far."
Christopher Capper followed Darrah and allowed a hit in the eighth before R.J. Hivley earned his first save with a perfect ninth.
Socrates Brito went 3-for-4 and drove in the game's only run with a single in the third inning.