Last week, Lexington's Bryan Brickhouse was watching his former high school teammate, Pirates prospect Jameson Taillon, pitch in an Eastern League game on MiLB.TV.
After Taillon finished his six innings, Brickhouse -- a fellow fireballer who has struggled to corral his secondary pitches in the Minor Leagues -- thumbed a quick message to his friend of over a decade.
"I sent him a text telling him he needs to teach me his curveball this offseason," Brickhouse said with a laugh.
The Royals right-handed prospect could chuckle about the remark because Monday night, after over a year of struggling with the offering, he finally found command of his own breaking ball. The discovery helped him strike out a career-high nine hitters over 6 2/3 innings in Class A Lexington's 2-0 win over Lakewood.
"Tonight was the first time the curveball has really been on at all this season," Brickhouse said.
The 20-year-old threw the pitch 14 times as he carried a no-hitter into the fifth inning, the BlueClaws eked out two hits off the hurler before he was pulled.
Brickhouse made 11 starts between the Pioneer and Midwest Leagues last season, compiling a 6.62 ERA behind an undesirable 4.42 walks-per-nine-innings ratio. Part of that was mentality -- "I was nibbling early in the count," he said -- but a large part was also his lack of curveball command.
The Texan had developed a habit of choking his breaking pitch into the dirt, trying to make it a swing-and-miss offering even early in the count. That tendency carried over into the beginning of this season.
"He always wanted to strike out people with his first pitch curve," Lexington pitching coach Jerry Nyman said. "We talked to him about just throwing it for a strike, then throwing the hammer behind it. He did that tonight and it was really good."
Nyman described the curve as a "plus breaking ball" Monday, the first time he's seen it that effective. Brickhouse said he threw a pair of 0-0 curveballs and dropped both into the zone for looking strikes. In the fifth inning, he challenged Mitch Walding with three straight curveballs and Lakewood's third baseman struck out looking.
"One of the main things is not trying to do too much with it," Brickhouse said. "Relaxing and just let the action happen. Don't force the action and try to make it too dirty. That's when I get off is when I'm trying to do too much with it. Tonight, I was able to throw it and let it happen."
Brickhouse struck out the side in the bottom of the first and got William Carmona looking to begin the second. He retired the first 14 Lakewood hitters in order. Larry Greene broke up his perfect-game bid by drawing a walk with two outs in the fifth, but Brickhouse induced a groundout from Carlos Tocci to end the inning.
Josh Ludy's lead-off double in the sixth ended the no-hitter. Brickhouse retired the next three hiters via groundouts and recorded two outs in the seventh before allowing a single to Mitch Walding and walking Larry Greene. Alec Mills relieved Brickhouse after that.
The Royals selected Brickhouse in the third round of the 2011 First-Year Player Draft out of The Woodlands High School in Texas. The public school has recently churned out Major Leaguers Paul Goldschmidt and Kyle Drabek, in addition to Brickhouse and Taillon.
"I work out with Jamo in the offseason, and two offseasons ago, I worked out with Drabek too," Brickhouse said. "I probably talk to Jamo about once a week. We'll talk about our outings and discuss what's working for us and not working for us.
"We'll talk about setting up hitters and we, I guess we're kind of each other's mentors sometimes. It's good. We've been close friends since we were 10 or 11, so he's always a guy who I can look to for advice or talk to about good outings or bad."
The offseason work is starting to pay dividends. Brickhouse made improving his fastball command a point of focus in the offseason and arrived at camp more confident in that regard. He's made strides with his changeup, getting 10-15 mph of separation from his mid-90s fastball. Tonight was the first time he felt like the curveball had caught up, and if he continues to corral the breaker, he may not be long for the South Atlantic League.
"I think it's just a matter of maturity," Nyman said of Brickhouse's improvements. "He's a very intelligent kid. There were a couple of things we thought he should work on, and he took to them. He figured them out. I'd like to take some credit, but it was mostly him.
"He's extremely competitive, and tonight, he was every bit as good as his line. That's what I'm going to put on my report."