When injuries opened a spot in Birmingham's starting rotation, manager Julio Vinas gave Nick McCully a chance. McCully has responded with the best stretch of his professional career.
The White Sox farmhand continued the trend Friday night, keeping Jackson hitless for six innings before the Barons beat the Generals and top pitching prospect Taijuan Walker, 4-1.
McCully struck out four and walked four as he completed the longest hitless outing of his career. He's 4-0 with a 1.93 ERA in six starts since replacing the injured Nestor Molina in the rotation, allowing 15 hits and seven walks while striking out 20 over 28 innings.
"This is definitely the best I've pitched in my career since playing pro ball," the 24-year-old right-hander said. "I haven't really changed anything in the way I pitch, but now I have the approach to throw strikes and get ahead and avoid three-ball counts and walks."
McCully showcased his improved mental edge Friday, overcoming a shaky third inning. He walked the first two hitters, then needed a little luck to escape the jam as Leon Landry popped up a bunt to third baseman Marcus Semien and Denny Almonte lifted a fly ball out to Trayce Thompson in right.
The baserunners pulled a double-steal with two outs, but James Jones lined a ball right at left fielder Keenyn Walker.
After having a quick word with his pitching coach, Britt Burns, McCully recovered his control between innings, facing the minimum over his final three frames.
"I don't walk a whole lot of guys, but I had been struggling with my command a little today," McCully said. "I went back into the dugout and my pitching coach said to get back into it, just go out and focus on throwing a few warmup pitches for strikes and use that to settle in a little bit."
For much of the game, McCully and Walker, MLB.com's No. 5 overall prospect, dueled back and forth. After holding Birmingham to one hit over the first six innings, Walker gave up consecutive hits to begin the seventh.
With two men on, Thompson laid down a bunt that Walker and catcher John Hicks charged after. The pair collided and Walker was replaced by reliever Nick Hill.
Walker (3-7) was charged with two runs on three hits with seven strikeouts and a walk over six-plus innings. The 20-year-old right-hander has a 3.40 ERA over his last six starts, during which the Generals have totaled three runs.
Walker and Dan Black both had two hits for the Barons, with Walker stealing his 24th base and Black driving in two runs.