Caleb Clay found himself on the outs last winter and needed a fresh start. On Saturday night, he made the start of his life for Double-A Harrisburg.
The Nationals prospect pitched a three-hitter for his first career complete-game shutout as the Senators defeated Trenton, 2-0, at Metro Bank Park.
Clay tied a season high with nine strikeouts, walked three batters and faced six over the minimum in his 11th start of the season. He threw a season-high 117 pitches, 70 for strikes.
"I was trying to get ahead with my fastball and go to my off-speed [stuff], looking for early contact and being efficient," Clay said. "I was throwing a cutter, a curveball and a changeup. I was using my change and cutter to keep them off-balance."
It was the Senators' first complete-game shutout since David Maust pitched a three-hitter against Bowie on Aug. 16, 2005. A seven-year Minor League veteran, Clay is in his first season in the Nationals organization.
"I was pretty happy," he said. "It was pretty fun. It was one of those things that's pretty rare, but it's pretty fun."
Selected by the Red Sox in the first round of the 2006 Draft, Clay signed with Washington as a Minor League free agent last November. After spending two seasons in the bullpen with Double-A Portland, he was asked to move back into the rotation during Spring Training.
"I'm more focused on command and location, instead of as a reliever just trying to blow it out," Clay said. "The starters set up hitters and kind of pitch off previous at-bats and scouting reports. As a reliever, you don't know what he's struggling with."
Following some struggles with Portland, Clay found himself looking for a new team. Having spent some time playing alongside Nationals prospects in the Arizona Fall League in 2011, the Alabama native was drawn to the organization.
"I knew some of the Washington guys from the Fall League," he said. "I felt like there was a comfort level. That's the way I viewed it, trying to get a fresh view."
Aside from back-to-back starts in mid-May, Clay appears to have found his niche. He's 2-0 with a 0.84 ERA and 21 strikeouts over 21 1/3 innings in his last three starts.
Against Trenton, Clay retired the first 10 batters before Yankees No. 4 prospect Slade Heathcott reached on a bunt single. He worked around a pair of walks in the fifth inning and never allowed another runner to reach second base.
Sean Nicol scored on a wild pitch in the third inning and Destin Hood lifted a sacrifice fly for the Senators, who have won two in a row following a three-game losing streak.
Thunder starter Jose Ramirez fell to 1-3 after giving up two runs on five hits over six innings.