Adam Conley got to face just one batter for the Miami Marlins in Spring Training, but his short Grapefruit League outing was perfect.
It took the second-round pick in the 2011 Draft just three pitches to strike out out Landon Powell of the New York Mets in the March 7 game.
"It would have been nice to pitch more, but the Marlins had a lot of pitchers to look at," Conley said. "I want to earn a longer look next year."
The left-hander is doing just that so far this season with Double-A Jacksonville. The Marlins' No. 6 prospect is 5-2 and has allowed just two runs over 11 2/3 innings in his past two starts, striking out 14.
The key for Conley has been his slider -- the pitch that will likely determine whether the 23-year-old Washington native stays a starter or has more of a Major League future as a reliever.
"I worked a lot on it and made a huge improvement," he said. "It was really good the last two starts."
Conley already had the rest of the pitching arsenal. He gets plenty of movement and velocity with both his four-seam and two-seam fastballs, and also has a solid changeup.
"I'll always pitch off my fastball," said Conley, who can crank it up to 97 mph at times. "But I needed to have a better breaking ball. That has been a point of emphasis."
The slider was behind because Conley was a reliever for part of his career at Washington State, setting a Cougars record with 12 saves as a sophomore. He moved to the rotation as a junior and impressed the Marlins, who gave him a bonus of $625,000.
"I was more comfortable as a closer in college," he said. "But I really love starting now. You can decide the pace of the game."
But Conley remains open to either role.
"I have faith in the Marlins making the right call on that," he said.
Conley was 7-3 with a 2.78 ERA in the first half of last season with Class A Greensboro, but tailed off to 4-2 with a 4.44 ERA after being promoted to Class A Advanced Jupiter.
That taught him a lesson. Conley, who is 6-foot-3, worked hard during the off-season to get his weight up to about 210 pounds from 195, and he has cut back on his throwing during the season.
"I learned how important it is to keep your weight up and stay strong," he said. "You have to take care of your body."
This season, Conley hopes to get better as the season goes along, and he is following that course so far. He was 0-1 with a 5.14 ERA in five April starts, despite allowing just one hit over five scoreless innings in his debut, then went 4-1 with a 4.39 ERA in five May outings. In June, he is 1-0 with a 1.54 ERA after two outings.
Overall, Conley has 56 strikeouts to 14 walks in 59 1/3 innings, and opponents are batting .238 against him. He allowed just one hit over six scoreless innings vs. Pensacola on May 11, striking out five and walking none.
"The idea this year was to build up as the season went along," he said.
The Suns are in a four-team battle for first place in the Southern League's South Division despite having pitcher Jose Fernandez, outfielder Marcell Ozuna and second baseman Derek Dietrich promoted to the rebuilding Marlins, Fernandez before the season even started.
"We were happy for them and it was exciting for us," Conley said. "We know that the opportunity is here. It's great for a young player to be in the Marlins organization right now."
Turning it around: Huntsville right-handed pitcher Taylor Jungmann has been dominant since a brief trip to the disabled list following a rough outing in late April. Milwaukee's No. 2 prospect allowed four hits and an unearned run over seven innings at Montgomery on Sunday to win his fourth straight start. Jungmann, 23, is 6-1 since the DL stint and hasn't allowed an earned run over 14 innings in his past two starts. The 12th pick in the 2011 Draft from the University of Texas is 7-5 with a 3.78 ERA overall, and opponents are batting .208 against him.
Streaking: Tennessee righty Kyle Hendricks didn't pick up a sixth victory in as many starts, but he allowed just four hits and a run over six innings in a no-decision at Mobile on Saturday. He is 6-2 with a 2.14 ERA and has 61 strikeouts to 16 walks in 71 2/3 innings. Opponents are batting .228 against him and he has a 1.08 WHIP. Hendricks, 23, came to the Chicago Cubs from Texas as part of the Ryan Dempster trade last July.
Getting on: Montgomery center fielder Kevin Kiermaier was 10-for-15 in the final three games of May and extended his hitting streak to 11 games before being stopped Friday. The leadoff hitter was batting .302 through Sunday and had a .375 on-base percentage thanks to 25 walks. Kiermaier, 23, was tied for the league lead with 45 runs scored and had six triples. He also excels when he is not at the plate, being picked by Tampa Bay as the organization's best defensive player last season.