Nationals pitching prospect Ivan Pineyro has always had above-average stuff. He may never have been the hardest thrower on his team, but he has consistently kept hitters off balance while dialing his fastball up in the low- to mid-90s.
Despite watching him for fewer than 20 innings, Hagerstown pitching coach Franklin Bravo thinks he has the potential to be something special.
Pineyro struck out a career-high 12 batters over six innings in the Class A Suns' 3-0 win over the visiting Hickory Crawdads on Sunday. He scattered three hits and issued two free passes.
"As of right now and the way I have seen him pitch, I think he can be very, very good. If he continues to pitch the way he has been, I think he will be a big league pitcher," Bravo said. "That may sound crazy because he is in low A, but he has the stuff. He has a good changeup and he can throw the fastball where he wants to right now."
Pineyro (1-2) struck out the side in the first inning around Luis Mende's one-out double and Ryan Rua's two-out walk. He fanned two more batters in the second and a sixth in the third.
The 6-foot-1 right-hander punched out two more Crawdads to erase Joey Gallo's leadoff double in the fourth, then replicated the feat to strand Jordan Akins -- who had laced a two-bagger to left field to begin the frame -- in the fifth. He capped off his outing with his 11th and 12th strikeouts in the sixth.
"I had a good performance and I learned from the couple outings before today," Pineyro said through translator Bravo. "The last couple games I was pitching behind in the count. This outing I was going after hitters. I wasn't worried about striking people out. I was just pitching to contact and trying to get ahead in the count.
"The two leadoff doubles I had, I knew that I missed up in the zone and so I made the adjustment for the next batter each time."
It was the the 10th time in 32 starts that Pineyro pitched four or more innings without allowing a run.
He carried a one-hitter through a career-high seven shutout innings in an 11-8 win against the Giants' Dominican Summer League team on Aug. 12, 2011, a game he still considers his strongest outing.
"I have been focused on every bullpen session that I've had," said Pineyro, who left his start against Lakewood on April 16 after being hit by a line drive on his glove hand but experienced no problems against Augusta on Tuesday. "I know I will face better hitters at this level. I'm focusing on keeping the ball down and having a better mix of pitches."
The 21-year-old native of the Dominican Republic lowered his ERA to 4.58 before coming out of the game after 80 pitches when the light rain that had been consistent throughout the afternoon began to fall harder.
"Today was one of those days where everything was working for him," Bravo said. "He was locating his fastball to both sides of the plate, his breaking ball was working fine and he had very good command of his changeup.
"It was raining the whole time, sprinkling, and we decided to take him out after six [innings]."
David Fischer relieved Pineyro, striking out six batters over three two-hit innings to earn his second save of the year. Hickory's 18 strikeouts took their league-high total to 271 in 25 games, an average of almost 11 per contest.
Crawdads starter Ryan Bores (0-1) allowed one run on four hits and a walk while striking out two batters over four innings.