When you see a pitcher with a high strikeout total in a box score, it's easy to conclude he's a fireballer. In the case of Angel Cuan, it's his head that brings him success, not his arm.
The Mets prospect gave up two hits and recorded a season-high nine strikeouts over seven innings Saturday night as Class A Advanced St. Lucie blanked visiting Bradenton, 1-0.
Cuan (5-1) retired his first eight batters before Chris Lashmet singled with two outs in the third inning. He ended up facing only three Marauders over the minimum, with one batter reaching on an error by second baseman T.J. Rivera.
"It was just one of those nights where he had really good control -- pinpoint control -- and all of his pitches working for him," Mets manager Ryan Ellis said. "He was able to mix his fastball up and down and use his quadrants. His slider and changeup were really good tonight, really sharp."
"I've had him for two-and-a-half years and that's the best I've seen him."
It was a typical start for Cuan, who did not walk a batter for the fourth time in eight appearances this season. The 29 batters he walked last season in 23 games for St. Lucie marked the highest total of his six-year career.
Signed as a non-drafted free agent in September 2007, the 23-year-old left-hander needed only 75 pitches to win his third straight decision. In fact, had the Mets not needed to use rehabbing Major Leaguers Jeurys Familia and Scott Atchison, Cuan could have gone the distance for the first time as a pro.
"The way he was going, I have no question he could have possibly gone nine tonight," Ellis said.
The reigning Florida State League Manager of the Year was quick to praise the native of Panama for the work that he puts in and the way he approaches each start.
"He's got himself into a really good routine," Ellis said. "He's one of the first guys in the park and he really studies the lineup. He's able to make the adjustments on the fly. Bradenton did a good job of making adjustments, but he was able to stay one step ahead of them.
"Honestly, I thought he got ahead of the hitters with off-speed pitches and I thought that made the difference. Bradenton is an aggressive hitting team and I thought he did a good job of using his changeup."
Cuan worked seven scoreless innings for the second straight start. And after struggling through much of the season's first month, he's 3-0 with a 1.67 ERA in his last five outings.
"He's a guy that doesn't throw hard. He's had to rely on control and keeping the ball down at the knees and when he doesn't, that's when he gets hurt," Ellis said. "I think he and [pitching coach] Phil Regan have done a good job on keeping the ball down, and it's been showing in his last two starts."
The statistics also bear that out. Cuan surrendered five homers over 17 innings in April but has given up only two in 22 frames this month. Overall, he has a 3.69 ERA and a 33-5 strikeout-to-walk ratio.
According to Ellis, Cuan's fastball sits around 87-88 mph. But the manager noted there's a big difference in velocity between that pitch and his changeup and slider. The nine strikeouts he notched on Saturday were one short of the career high he established in the Rookie-level Venezuelan Summer League on May 22, 2008.
Familia and Atchison each fanned one in a perfect inning as the Mets registered their Florida State League-leading eighth shutout.
Albert Cordero singled home Dustin Lawley in the second with the game's only run.
Bradenton starter Eliecer Navarro fell to 0-9, despite yielding a run on five hits over a season-high 6 2/3 innings.