Pitching through light rain at Trenton's Arm & Hammer Park on Saturday night, Nik Turley was having trouble gripping his breaking pitches, especially his curveball.
One of the 23-year-old left-hander's strengths is his versatility, and in the face of slippery fingers, Turley put that skill on display. The Yankees' No. 14 prospect allowed just one hit -- a solo homer -- while striking out six over six innings as the Thunder beat Bowie, 6-1.
"I think my changeup really helped me," he said. "If I was behind in the count, I could throw it and throw it for strikes. That was pretty big."
Turley, the third-to-last player selected in the 2008 Draft, boasts a solid four-pitch mix that has many hopeful the 6-foot-4 hurler can stick in a Major League rotation. After a somewhat rocky start to the season, he's been much better over the past month, logging at least five innings and allowing three or fewer runs in six straight outings. He's won four of his last five starts, posting a 2.93 ERA with 30 strikeouts in 27 2/3 innings.
Against the Baysox, Turley began the game with three consecutive groundouts -- he'd finish with seven against four fly-ball outs.
Bowie got to him just once, when the southpaw from California surrendered a leadoff shot to Caleb Joseph in the second. Joseph deposited a hanging changeup over the left-field wall for his second homer in as many nights.
"It was pretty much a [batting practice] fastball," Turley said. "He got a really good pitch to hit and made me pay."
Turley recovered quickly, striking out Henry Urrutia and finishing the inning without further damage. He faced the minimum over his final four frames, allowing just one baserunner to reach via a walk but inducing a ground-ball double play one batter later.
"I feel like I was tough the whole game," Turley said. "It was really just that one pitch I hung."
The outing marked the second time in a month that the 2012 Florida State League All-Star has overcome an early hurdle to put together a successful start. On May 2 against New Hampshire, Turley allowed a leadoff triple to Kevin Pillar and a single to John Tolisano, falling into a quick 1-0 hole. But Tolisano was the last Fisher Cat to get a hit as Turley struck out eight and allowed just one run over six innings.
"I think when I get into situations like that, I know I will have to battle and bear down and attack hitters," he said. "That's all I can do. Everything else is out of my hands after that."
One thing that contributed to Turley's success against New Hampshire was his improving slider. He began throwing the pitch late last season, and it has developed quickly enough that it became a go-to pitch against the Fisher Cats while he scuffled with his other pitches.
Saturday's outing was the first back at Double-A for Turley after a brief stint with Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. When the Yankees recalled Vidal Nuno from the RailRiders, Turley was promoted to make a spot start against Gwinnett.
Turley was only with the team for a matter of hours, so he didn't have a lot of time to pick up much from coaches and teammates at the higher level. What he did learn was mostly a valuable lesson about pitching to Braves outfielder Jason Heyward, who was rehabbing with Gwinnett when Turley made his start.
"Don't groove in a fastball first pitch of an at-bat," Turley said with a laugh. "The first at-bat, I got him with a fastball, struck him out looking. The next at-bat, he hit the RBI double off me. He got me, but at least I got him, too."
His encouraging results in May are the latest in a long line of positive steps Turley's taken since nearly going undrafted in 2008. With the slider becoming a more dependable weapon in his arsenal, the pieces are falling in place for Turley to continue his ascent through the Minor Leagues.
"I have four different pitches, so usually if something's not on, something else is," he said. "A couple games ago, the slider was the pitch I could go to if I was in trouble and needed a strike. Some nights it switches on and off.
"For me, I think it's just being competitive and wanting to attack the batters. I think that's really what it comes down to."