As much importance as is placed on numbers in baseball, exactly how much is always in the eyes of the beholder.
For Michael Kickham, the numbers showed he didn't have a great start to his first Triple-A season. Through five starts for Fresno, he was 0-3 with a 7.94 ERA and 2.07 WHIP. Personally, he thought those figures were misleading.
Finally on Friday, the two sides seemed to come to some agreement.
The Giants' No. 12 prospect struck out eight and allowed four hits and one walk over 7 1/3 shutout frames in the Triple-A Grizzlies' 5-1, 11-inning loss to Colorado Springs. With the exception of walks, he met or exceeded a season best in each of those main categories, despite falling short of his first win at the Minor Leagues' highest level.
The outing represented a nice bounceback for the 24-year-old left-hander, who had allowed 16 runs in his previous three starts alone.
"I know they looked bad, but I haven't been focusing in on the numbers really at all," he said. "I've just been focusing on making improvements start to start. The stats are really just an afterthought. Hopefully, something like tonight gets the ball rolling and I can string together a few more starts just like this one."
The strikeout was Kickham's saving grace against the Sky Sox. He escaped one-out jams with runners in scoring position in both the second and third by striking out the last two batters of each inning.
Following Lars Davis' single in the third, the Missouri State product didn't allow another hit until the eighth, when Tommy Manzella led off with a leadoff. He exited two batters later after walking Rob Scahill for his only free pass of the evening. The 7 1/3 innings, which took 87 pitches (58 strikes) to complete, represented his longest outing since pitching 8 1/3 frames for Double-A Richmond last Aug. 2.
The better results and longer start came directly from Kickham's newfound education in the ways of Triple-A ball.
"I really had to do a better job of establishing my fastball," said the Missouri native, who had made a name for himself with his slider. "In those first few starts, I'd go to my breaking ball early to get outs, but when they'd come up for the second or third time, that's what they're sitting on. These guys do a great job of figuring you out that way, so I had to use my fastball early so I could go to the breaking stuff more late."
Kickham dropped his ERA by almost two full runs to 6.00. And a big part of that has been improved control. After walking batters at a rate of 6.6 per nine innings through his first four starts with the Grizzlies, the southpaw has issued just the one free pass over 12 1/3 frames in his last two starts.
Despite those peaks and valleys, Kickham admitted he's kept his frustration level in check thus far, especially after an outing like Friday's.
"I understand it's a new level and I've played in a few hitters' parks, so there's going to be a little bit of a learning curve," he said. "Sure, I took some hard knocks here early and it's easy to get down after that. But I've got some good information from each start I've made, and now I'm putting that together to get better each start."
Kickham also produced with the bat Friday, doubling in the third inning and scoring the game's first run on a double by Giants No. 2 prospect Gary Brown. It was the first extra-base hit of the season for the hurler, who is 2-for-7 (.286) in the early going. He batted .320 (8-for-25) with two doubles, four RBIs and two walks a season ago in Richmond.
"That's always fun to get a hit like that," he said. "I swung the bat pretty well last year, so I just kind of go up there and see what happens. Tonight, I got a pitch down and in and was able to just go with it into the outfield. It's nice when that happens."
Despite doing almost everything for the Grizzlies on Friday, Kickham wasn't eligible for the win after Sky Sox left fielder Greg Golson hit a game-tying solo homer off Heath Hembree with two outs in the top of the ninth. Golson, Charlie Blackmon and Ben Paulsen combined to drive in four runs -- all charged to reliever Mitch Lively -- in the 11th to put Colorado Springs in front.