Saturday night's start was a bit different for Aaron Northcraft. But different can be good.
"As long as things work out, I'm happy," the Braves' 11th-ranked prospect said.
Northcraft allowed two hits and two walks over six scoreless innings for his first win in nearly a month as Double-A Mississippi defeated Montgomery, 6-1, at Trustmark Park.
The 23-year-old right-hander improved to 2-3 and dropped his ERA to 3.91. But the two strikeouts he recorded were the fewest he's had in any outing since June 4, 2012. He ended up leading the Carolina League with 160 punchouts last season.
Northcraft, a 2009 10th-round Draft pick out of Santa Ana, Calif., made it out of the fifth inning in only one of his previous four starts. But even in those performances, he recorded 17 strikeouts over 18 2/3 frames.
"I was focused on going deep in [tonight's] game," Northcraft said. "My last outing was 4 2/3 [innings] and before that five, so I wanted to make sure I went at least six. I didn't want to get behind guys. Strikeouts do mean throwing more pitches, so it didn't bother me. But it was a little different."
During his winless stretch, which began on May 11 against Montgomery, Northcraft had the feeling he was always playing catchup.
"I would be throwing my four-seam [fastball] a lot. I'd fall behind guys and they would know it was coming," he said. "I wouldn't get to mix in changeups or really throw any off-speed stuff.
"Tonight, I knew I had to make it a different situation. I was working on getting ahead from the start. I threw my changeup for strikes, which is something I've struggled with, since I haven't been able to throw it that often."
Northcraft also stayed away from his four-seamer early in counts, showing the Biscuits his sinker.
"I was trying to get ahead with that," he explained. "I didn't get to it too much -- I wasn't as one-minded as I have been lately."
The mix was effective, although Northcraft had to work out of trouble in the second inning. Keith Castillo smacked a one-out single before a tiny object got in the pitcher's eye in the middle of his delivery.
"I turned my head while I was pitching," he said, "and lost control of the ball."
It struck Riccio Torrez to put runners on first and second. One out later, Steven Tinoco singled, but Torrez stumbled around second base and was thrown out by right fielder Jose Martinez to end the inning.
"[Torrez] rounded second too much and slipped a little trying to get back. It was kind of funny, actually. I was happy with it," Northcraft said. "The pitch he hit might have been up a bit, but it worked out."
From there, Northcraft cruised, issuing a walk in the third and another in the fourth. He recorded 10 of his 18 outs on the ground, but on a night when things were working for him in unusual ways, he was more focused on something that went differently.
"I usually get a lot of ground balls, but tonight in the first couple innings, I got three popups," he said. "That was kind of weird for me."
Christian Bethancourt, Atlanta's No. 2 prospect, singled and lifted a sacrifice fly for the M-Braves, while No. 15 prospect Edward Salcedo walked twice, stole his 10th base and scored a run.
Mikie Mahtook, the Rays' No. 11 prospect, scored the Biscuits' lone run.