Mavericks Stadium is not known as a pitchers' park. Winds and its approximately 3,400-foot elevation tend to side with the hitters. And over the first two months of the California League season, nine games at the ballpark featured one team scoring in double digits.
James Allen of the Bakersfield Blaze figured out the key to pitching well at High Desert: don't give up any fly balls.
"I'm a ground-ball pitcher," he said. "Or I try to be, anyway."
Allen definitely was on Tuesday night, yielding two hits over eight innings as the Blaze beat High Desert, 1-0, for the first shutout of the season at Mavericks Stadium.
The 23-year-old right-hander fanned three batters and walked two as he attacked the lower part of the strike zone with fastballs. He induced 13 ground-ball outs, including a pair of double plays.
"Our organization does a great job of appreciating ground-ball pitchers," Allen said. "Great American Ball Park is not the biggest place, and they like to coach you to be a good ground-ball pitcher all the way up through the different levels. Last year, I was not the best at it; this year, I've been better. I'm getting the mechanics down."
The Mavericks probably agree. They threatened in the opening inning after Chris Taylor led off with a single and stole second. Allen got Jamal Austin on a comebacker, then walked Kevin Rivers.
"I got behind 2-0 on Rivers, their three-hole guy -- he's a real good hitter," Allen said. "I was trying to make perfect pitches, to just paint the corners."
With Rivers aboard, Allen got Jibari Blash to bounce to shortstop Juan Perez, who started Bakersfield's first double play.
"You're only good as your defense, and my defense was great," the Kansas State product said. "I can't tell you how many outs the left side of the infield got for me."
After that, it was an uphill battle for High Desert.
"I was just trying to find my rocker [in the first], or get in my rocker, so to speak. I was actually kind of sluggish. Not lackadaisical but a little sluggish," Allen explained. "Then, after the first, my catcher, Chris Berset, said, 'Let's get locked in. Let's get going.'"
Allen issued a leadoff walk to Daniel Paolini in the second but got another double-play ball off the bat of Ramon Morla. Other than a third-inning single by Taylor, he cruised. In the fifth, he struck out the first two batters.
"You can look at the stats, I'm not really a strikeout pitcher," Allen said. "I was just trying to keep it in the zone. It used to be when I got an 0-2 count, I'd try to get the strikeout on three pitches, but tonight I was getting to 0-2 and staying in that ground ball mentality. I was pretty locked in, just focused, and my mechanics were right there. I made good pitches and those guys just so happened to strike out."
Juan Silverio busted out of a 1-for-23 slump with a solo homer in the ninth, giving the Blaze a 1-0 lead. Allen turned the game over to Jamie Walczak, who worked a 1-2-3 frame for his second save.
Mavs starter Jordan Pries matched Allen for seven innings, limiting Bakersfield to four hits and three walks while striking out four.
For Allen, the next task is pushing the development his off-speed stuff.
"My fastball was there today, but that doesn't mean it will be there every day," he said. "I didn't need to throw too many of the off-speed pitches, but I want to be able to when I really need them."