Blue Jays pitching prospect Marcus Walden is one of those players who can be especially hard on himself.
He hasn't necessarily been bad this season, just not as good as he knows he can be. On Tuesday night, he tried to steady the ship by doing what he does best and putting his infield to work.
Walden gave up two hits and a pair of walks while striking out six batters over a season-high 7 2/3 innings in the Double-A New Hampshire Fisher Cats' 3-0 win over the visiting Portland Sea Dogs.
The 24-year-old right-hander induced 13 ground-ball outs, three popups and one fly ball. A former infielder, Walden knew that would make his infield happy.
"I have heard a lot of my infielders say how they love it when I'm pitching because they get a lot of ground balls and it keeps them in the game," Walden said. "I played shortstop all the time growing up and I loved guys who worked fast. They tend to make a lot more plays and a lot better plays when you're like that.
"I thought I threw the ball really well. I had command on both sides of the plate with my sinker, and when you have that command, everything else opens up."
Walden (2-4) allowed one ball to leave the infield over the first five frames, and his sinker only got better as the game wore on. Seven of the eight outs he recorded between the end of the fifth and the start of the eighth came on ground balls as he retired 12 Sea Dogs in a row.
"The biggest thing was that I had not faced Portland yet. I think that was the first time I had faced any team in the Red Sox organization," the California native said. "Instead of trying to say a guy can't hit certain pitches, I just attacked the zone and if they start making contact, I have to change what I'm doing.
"I never had to go away from my game plan. I just let my infielders do the work."
Walden lowered his ERA to 2.96, the lowest it's been all season. He had been inconsistent throughout the first six weeks, allowing 55 hits over 38 innings heading into Tuesday's start. He had failed to make it through five innings in three of his first seven games and he had given up multiple runs in four of those outings.
Opponents were hitting .346 against Walden, who allowed at least 10 baserunners in more than half of his starts. Seventy-one of the 176 batters who faced Welden reached safely.
"I think a lot of it was nitpicking a little bit and trying to start the sinker on the corner and let it move inside rather than trusting myself, starting it over the plate and letting the hitters swing at it," said Walden, who threw 59 of 86 pitches for strikes on Tuesday.
"I was getting in hitters' counts early in the season instead of making them get themselves out. It's that tempo and being calm and not letting the game speed up on me. I'm pretty hard on myself."
The sinker is a relatively new pitch for Walden, who also throws a changeup, cut fastball and a curveball that he describes as a work in progress.
Selected in the ninth round of the 2007 Draft, Walden said one problem has been trying to throw the sinker "through the sink." He can throw it between 91 and 93 mph when he's too amped up, but the pitch has much better movement when he dials it down to around 88.
"I think a lot of it is about the natural movement of your arm because you're throwing over the top," Walden said. "When I came to the Blue Jays organization, they showed me how to throw a sinker properly. They told me if I could get on top of it, I could drive it down. It's hard to give up runs when a team needs four singles to get a run.
"I was a four-seam fastball max effort guy in junior college. I was a closer, so I didn't have to look over lineups or anything. I would pitch one inning, go out with a max effort arm and just throw."
John Stilson followed Walden and struck out four over 1 1/3 one-hit innings to earn the save in his season debut.
Kevin Pillar went 3-for-4 with a double, an RBI and a run scored for the Fisher Cats, while Brad Glenn had two hits and an RBI and Kevin Nolan reached safely three times to raise his average to .287.
Portland starter Drake Britton (3-3) -- the Red Sox's No. 12 prospect -- allowed two runs on six hits and four walks while striking out five over five innings.