Mike Wright will be the first to tell you that he was trying to show off at the beginning of the year.
"You know, you always try to make a really good first impression when you first get somewhere," said the Double-A Bowie right-hander. "Because of that, I think I was being a little too fine and getting behind guys early in counts, and that hurt."
Through his first three starts with the Baysox, Wright had not pitched past the fifth inning and had allowed 10 earned runs through 12 1/3 frames while batters owned a .333 batting average against him.
But once he stopped pitching to impress and started pitching to produce, the results have done a near 180.
The Orioles' No. 9 prospect tied a career high with eight strikeouts and gave up just two hits and a walk in six shutout innings as Bowie bested New Britain, 9-1, at Prince George's Stadium.
The win was Wright's fifth straight and lowered his season ERA to 3.70 -- its lowest level at any point with the Baysox dating back to late May of last season, when he split the year at Bowie and Class A Advanced Frederick. The 23-year-old right-hander has pitched exactly six innings in each of his last four starts and hasn't allowed more than two runs in any of the four outings.
"I feel like I've really settled in," he said. "A lot of it comes from the gameplan we set before every start. I have a meeting with my pitching coach [Blaine Beatty] and we talk about the hitters we're going to be facing in the next outing. The catchers get involved in that too, and I make sure even our fielders are in there to make sure we're all on the same page defensively and so everyone knows just how I'm going to go after these guys. Over the last five or six starts, those plans have been a big part of why I've pitched so well."
After watching fellow Bowie right-hander Devin Jones allow two runs on four hits and strike out seven Rock Cats in Tuesday's 8-2 win, Wright knew precisely what needed to be done to repeat that kind of success.
"It obviously varies with different guys and different scenarios, but the biggest thing was beating them inside with the fastball early," said the 2011 third-round pick, whose fastball regularly clocks in the mid-90s. "That allowed me to get them with sliders away later in the game. My slider was good today. Overall actually, I felt like I had really good stuff out there."
That sequencing was particularly effective in the latter half of the right-hander's start, when he struck the first two batters in the fourth, fifth and sixth.
As it stands, the slider could be the key to Wright repeating his recent string of success in the Eastern League and potentially even beyond.
"I struggled with it when I started out [as a pro] because I was still getting used to the grip on the Minor League ball," said the East Carolina University product. "But I've been throwing it more and more, and I know it needs to become a better third pitch for me. My fastball and changeup have been pretty consistent, but I need the slider if I'm going to be successful in the Majors someday. So every time I'm throwing in the bullpen or on flat ground, it's something I'm working on."
Wright was a benefactor of the Baysox's third straight game scoring eight runs or more. Baltimore's No. 7 prospect Xavier Avery went 3-for-5 with three runs scored and missed the cycle by a home run from Bowie's leadoff spot. Third baseman Ty Kelly went 3-for-4 with a double and five RBIs.
"It's a whole lot easier for a pitcher to go out there with a 5-0 lead than in a tie game or if you're down a few runs," said the starting hurler. "They made it really easy for me to pitch tonight."