Branden Kline put up such an astonishing strikeout total Friday night, he even surprised himself.
The Orioles' No. 8 prospect recorded a career-high 13 punchouts over 5 2/3 innings, giving up two runs on four hits in Class A Delmarva's 5-2 come-from-behind victory over Hickory.
"It didn't hit me how many strikeouts I had until after the game," Kline said. "I thought I'd looked at the scoreboard at one point and saw eight or nine or something. When I found out I actually had 13, I was kind of shocked. That was a good surprise. I realized it was kind of a special game."
Kline (1-2) grew up in Frederick, Md., some 150 miles from the Shorebirds' Perdue Stadium. Drafted by the Orioles in the second round last year, his career performance came before some of his favorite fans.
"It's been a dream come true. It's really been perfect," he said. "My family can come see me when they want sometimes, and actually we just played in Hagerstown, which is literally just 20 minutes away. It's always good to have friends and family there to support you. [Friday], I had my mom, my dad, my grandparents, my brother, my stepmother and some friends."
They saw quite an outing. Kline's previous career high was five strikeouts. And in his previous start, he surrendered six runs -- five earned -- on nine hits over 4 1/3 innings as his ERA climbed to 6.37. He brought that mark down to 5.86 on Friday, although the opening inning presented a bad omen.
The 21-year-old right-hander opened the game with a strikeout, but after hitting Rangers No. 5 prospect Jorge Alfaro, Kline surrendered a home run to Ryan Rua.
"You know, the home run actually helped me a little a bit. That was the game slapping me in the face, telling me, 'Hey, wake up, keep the ball down,'" Kline said. "It was a 2-1 fastball on the middle third, a bit up. You give credit to the guy who hit it, but this is baseball. You put it behind you and make quality pitches from there on out.
"But everything I'm learning tells me to focus on the next pitch. Once I let the ball go, I can't control the outcome. I'm learning to just work for a chance at an out instead of seeing the ball go over the fence."
Kline found it helpful, too, to remember he'd already shown what he could do in the inning.
"When I was able to throw a good changeup and got that first strikeout, once I knew I could throw my change for strikes, I had more confidence," he said.
The University of Virginia product did not let any bumps in the road rattle that confidence. After giving up a leadoff single in the second to Rangers No. 12 prospect Nomar Mazara, he struck out the side.
"I was focusing on each pitch," he said, "and the single [came on] a good pitch. It was just a little bleeder that fell out behind our second baseman."
Kline credited catcher Wynston Sawyer.
"Every time I was thinking I'd want to throw a pitch, that's what he was calling," he said.
In the bottom of the second, Shorebirds first baseman Nik Balog was hit by a pitch from Hickory starter Tyler Smith. Plate umpire Ryan Wills responded to the game's second plunking by issuing a warning to both benches.
"I talked to our coaches and they said, 'It's a warning, don't worry too much.'" Kline said. "I've never been in that situation, so I didn't really know. But they told me it's up to the ump's discretion and I wasn't trying to hit anybody. My game plan was to bust them in, but I didn't let that make me change what I was trying to do."
Kline fanned two in a perfect third and worked around an error and a double in the fourth. Then he struck out six batters in a row.
"I think the big difference was, I just recently started throwing a changeup. That's been a big pitch to include in my repertoire," he said. "I was also able to throw everything for strikes. My fastball had good life to it down in the zone and my slider was good. I threw the changeup in the dirt a couple times and got them to swing on top, catching them off-guard with that."
With two outs in the sixth, Rua poked a single through the left side and stole second with Joey Gallo at the plate. The Rangers' No. 9 prospect leads the South Atlantic League with 11 homers.
"I tried to keep the pitches all down on him. I know he's got some good numbers and he's strong, a big kid," Kline said. "My game plan was to keep the ball low. I was able to get ahead, 0-1. After that, I was trying to do too much. I bounced a couple pitches and we went to 3-2."
Kline missed down with his next pitch, putting Gallo aboard and bringing Delmarva manager Luis Pujols out of the dugout.
"I made a good pitch, but it was low," Kline admitted. "[Gallo] battled and put together a really good at-bat. But I kind of knew when Pujols came out that it had to do with pitch count, unfortunately. I was frustrated. I wanted to get that last out, but I know he has a job to do. And, of course, it's in my interest and I obviously respect that."
Although Kline has given up 41 hits over 35 1/3 innings this season, he's issued only three walks over his last 21 innings.
"That's been the big key," he said. "This is something I learned back at school. My pitching coach at Virginia [Karl Kuhn] was a big anti-walk fanatic," Kline said. "The game of baseball is stacked against the hitter. All the percentages are against the hitters. To get a hit, a batter has to hit a pitch just right and really hard or else get lucky and find some gap. That's a really hard thing to do -- you've got nine defenders trying to get him out.
"If you give away free bases, you're seriously hurting yourself and doing them a big favor. It's going to be very hard for a team to to put together three hits or a couple singles and a double, to string them together in one inning and score a lot of runs. But when you start walking guys, then all they need is one hit to get a couple runs in."
Lucas Herbst provided the offense for the Shorebirds, going 3-for-5 and ripping a bases-loaded triple in the decisive seventh.