Mike Foltynewicz completed his first no-hit outing as a pro on Friday night. And he knows just what allowed him do it.
"I let my defense help me out a lot, and that's a lesson," he said. "The defense was working really well, just awesome. That's been a huge boost to my confidence up here."
The Astros' No. 7 prospect faced one batter over the minimum over five innings and combined with David Martinez on a one-hitter as Double-A Corpus Christi blanked Northwest Arkansas, 2-0.
"That feels great. It's always something cool to look back on," Foltynewicz said after walking three batters and striking out two. "I knew back in the fourth ... we hadn't given up any hits, but I just wanted to go out there and compete. You don't really notice it, but it's in the back of your mind. I just have to go out and do my best."
The fact that his lights-out performance came a little over three weeks after he was promoted from Class A Advanced Lancaster was icing on the cake. He's allowed only two earned runs over 21 innings for a 0.86 ERA in five Double-A appearances, including three starts.
"I'm real excited right now," Foltynewicz said. "I'm finally proving to a lot of people that I'm the real deal. People who doubt me, who thought that the Lexington season [in 2012] was some kind of fluke or something, to show people why I got drafted and what I can do ... I'm just really, really happy to be here."
After Royals No. 4 prospect Orlando Calixte reached in the first on a one-out error by third baseman Jonathan Meyer, Foltynewicz was engaged with a battle at the plate with Carlo Testa. He noticed Calixte leading off first and threw over three times, then, after three straight balls to Testa, picked off Calixte.
"That was big. I was trying to look for a double-play ball," Foltynewicz said. "I was watching [Calixte], though, and I had a feeling that on 3-1 he'd be inching up. He was probably going to steal and I popped over there and caught him off-guard."
Foltynewicz ended up walking Testa.
"I got upset with myself," he said. "Having a guy 3-1, I'm just trying to put the ball over the middle of the plate and make him hit it. But after that pickoff, the crowd had gotten into it and I was a little too excited and I missed. I try not to get too fine with my pitches instead of just letting my stuff work over the middle. So, yeah, I was a little upset with myself. I'm hard on myself. That's part of my natural instincts. I'm a competitor. I hate losing. It's just part of my game out there."
What did he do about it? Struck out Yem Prades to end the inning.
"I took a couple deep breaths and went on to the next batter. I let my pitches get over the plate, and he was fouling me off and fouling me off, and finally I reared back on one. It went high on me, but he swung through it," the 21-year-old right-hander said.
Foltynewicz has been able to rear back and find more heat this season than he had in the past. Throughout his Minor League career, he's been able to reach the high 90s with his fastball. Last August, that started to change -- for the better.
"I starting hitting triple digits at the end of last year, once in a while," he said. "It was weird. As opposed to the velocity dropping at the end of the year, I got stronger. Now I'm feeling awesome, feeling really good. I've been hitting triple digits once every couple innings or so this year. Sometimes, when I need to, it feels like I can reach back and put something extra on it."
After striking out 29 batters over 26 innings for Class A Advanced Lancaster and fanning nine over five frames in his Double-A debut, Foltynewicz has only 10 strikeouts in 16 innings for Corpus Christi.
That number worries Foltynewicz "not at all."
"I want to let my defense do the work, be aggressive and let guys put the bat on the ball, especially since the defense has been so awesome ever since I got here," he said. "Strikeouts will come, but I just want to make good pitches and get outs."
The Illinois native walked Prades with two outs in the fourth, but Astros No. 16 prospect Max Stassi threw him out trying to steal second.
"That was huge for me. I was kind of losing it pretty good on that [next] hitter and that saved me big-time," Foltynewicz said. "Otherwise, having first and second, two outs, who knows what might have happened? It was a good pitch for [Stassi]. I didn't mean to throw it up at all, but I did, and he made a great throw."
Foltynewicz worked a 1-2-3 fifth but knew his night was over. The Astros are using a piggyback rotation below the Triple-A level in which a pitcher goes five innings in a start, then works four out of the bullpen a few days later. Foltynewicz would like to have seen how long he could have preserved the no-hitter but was not bothered by his early departure.
"That's something you can't control. You just go out there and put out your best for five innings or four innings, set your mind for that and let it all out," he said. "That's something I've learned to do, ever since we got the news in Spring Training.
"It's weird, knowing you only have five innings or 75 pitches, or four innings or 60 pitches, but it's also good knowing you can let it all hang out there instead of pacing yourself. It's also weird coming out of the 'pen. But all of us are doing well and it's kind of fun."
Foltynewicz came away with no decision because Naturals starter Jason Adam (0-6) matched him for six innings. After the Royals' No. 11 prospect retired nine straight batters, he hit Astros No. 13 prospect Domingo Santana to open the seventh. Erik Castro and Meyer followed with singles to produce the game's first run.
"He was good. His curveball was real good, actually," Foltynewicz said of Adam. "To have a pitchers' duel is really fun. You go out knowing you've got to be good. And when you get a run, you know you need to put up a zero when you go out. In a pitchers' duel, you always watch him and when you go out there, try to one-up the other guy."
David Martinez (8-0) was the one who answered with a zero. After allowing a leadoff single to Roman Hernandez in the sixth, the 25-year-old right-hander faced the minimum over the final four innings to become the Minor Leagues' first eight-game winner.
"That's quite an accomplishment for him," Foltynewicz said. "He's pitching awesome right now. He deserves it."