Jake Cose had no movement on his fastball, no action on his changeup and no clue how many pitches he'd thrown on Friday.
"It was actually kind of weird," he said. "Warming up, everything was working well, going according to plan. But from the first inning on, it seemed the changeup wasn't moving too much. I kind of had to improvise."
And he did.
Cose recorded a career-high 13 strikeouts over six innings and fellow White Sox prospect Micah Johnson stole his Minor League-leading 44th base as Class A Kannapolis defeated Hickory, 7-5, at L.P. Frans Stadium.
Cose (3-3) allowed three runs on five hits and three walks in his ninth start for the Intimidators. As a staff, Kannapolis recorded a season-high 17 strikeouts for the second straight night against the Crawdads, the South Atlantic League's most strikeout-prone team. Hickory, with Luis Marte wearing the golden sombrero on Friday, has whiffed 501 times this year.
"I felt like my fastball didn't have much movement, no good life, not much movement today," Cose said. "My changeup, which is usually my best pitch, I think, was just not working today. But the thing was, I was spotting it really well today. That's what was getting me through everything."
A 2011 27th-round Draft pick, Cose has fanned at least eight batters in each of his last four starts. He struck out nine over seven strong innings on May 13 at Lexington after holding Charleston to one hit and fanning six over seven innings on April 28 in perhaps his best game of the year.
The 13 strikeouts were the most by an Intimidator since Terry Doyle totaled 14 on May 7, 2010 at West Virginia. But with the strikeouts came deep pitch counts, prompting Kannapolis pitching coach Jose Bautista to pull the plug after six innings.
"I had no idea [I had 13] until I got into the dugout," Cose said. "My pitching coach told me -- I thought I was around nine strikeouts. I was disappointed when I came in and he said, 'Great job, you're done for the night.' I asked why and he said, 'Pitch count.'"
While it may not have been as sharp as he's used to, the changeup produced most of the strikeouts, according to Cose, who said he threw 99 pitches.
"I wouldn't say it's my strikeout pitch, but it's my best pitch," he added. "I usually get a lot of swings and misses, but today, there wasn't too much movement."
Cose also worked in his slider, which he's hoping develops more velocity and break in his third season.
"I used quite a few, it was working really well," he said. "I was trying to throw it a little harder today, be more effective, have some tighter spin and more movement."
Johnson, an early challenger to Billy Hamilton's year-old stolen base record, went 4-for-4 with an RBI single in the sixth that put Kannapolis ahead, 6-3. He also swiped his 44th base, the same total Hamilton had through May 24, 2012 on his way to a record-breaking 155 steals.
"He's incredible," Cose said of Johnson. "I've never played with a guy who can steal bags like that. He's probably the best second baseman I've played with, too. It's nice because, I don't know how many runs he has, but a guy who can get on and steal second and maybe third -- our coach told us he's got mid- to high-80s percent rate on steals. Once you see him take off, you know he's got the bag."
Johnson, who's been caught 11 times, is batting .320 with a homer, 21 RBIs, 43 runs scored and a .402 on-base percentage. Hamilton is 25-for-29 on the basepaths at Triple-A Louisville.
Kannapolis snapped a 3-3 tie in the fifth as Michael Johnson singled and scored on Jason Coats' base hit. Michael Johnson extended his on-base streak to 18 games with a pair of hits and a walk.
As for Cose, his third win didn't play out as planned, but he'll take the results.
"The thing is, it's real different warming up before going into the game," he said. "I usually expect six or seven [strikeouts] a game, so I definitely wasn't expecting 13. But I guess it's kinda good and bad -- everyone wants a lot of strikeouts, but that ups your pitch count. I made it to the sixth with all those pitches, but as a starter, you want to pitch seven or eight innings. I didn't get too many first- or second-pitch outs."
Cose debuted with Rookie-level Bristol in 2011, appearing in 11 games out of the bullpen, before returning to the Appalachian League last summer, making a dozen starts for the White Sox and pitching three innings for Kannapolis. This is his first full season in the Minors, and over 50 2/3 innings, the San Joaquin Delta Junior College product has 59 strikeouts, 19 walks and a 1.95 ERA.
"I feel like I'm doing really well, my season is progressing well," Cose said. "I've gotten better and better every start. I'd like to say I've been getting more fastball command, but tonight it was more command and less movement. It's not a setback, I'd like to look at that and move forward."
Hickory (26-20) brought the tying run to the plate with two outs in the bottom of the ninth after Joey Gallo hit his 13th homer and Ryan Rua advanced to second after getting hit by a pitch. But Stew Brase struck out Nomar Mazara to notch his first save of the season.