David Holmberg helped Mobile win a second straight Southern League championship last season, going 1-0 with a 1.98 ERA in two playoff starts. The left-hander may not be with Mobile for the postseason this year, but he made sure the BayBears will get a chance at three titles in a row.
Holmberg, Arizona's No. 7 prospect, closed the first half with three straight victories and won the clinching game as Mobile held off three other teams to claim first place in the South Division.
Like Holmberg, the BayBears finished strong after a slow start.
"We turned a corner in May, and I think our experience of being in the playoffs last year made a difference for us down the stretch," he said.
Holmberg posted a 0.78 ERA in his final three starts of the first half and threw a complete game in the clincher, the only hit by Pensacola in the 11-1 rout a home run.
The second-round choice by the White Sox in the 2009 Draft gave up just 10 hits over 23 innings in his three straight victories to end the half and had 13 strikeouts to four walks.
Holmberg's command went from good to nearly perfect, and he has benefited from going inside more with his fastball to set up his excellent changeup and complement his two breaking balls.
Holmberg, who turns 22 in July, had actually been pitching well even before June, just not getting much in the way of results.
It took eight scoreless innings at Chattanooga on May 9 for Holmberg to get his first victory this season, and he was 1-3 going into June despite a 2.84 ERA in 11 starts.
"It was a little frustrating, because you always want to get the win," Holmberg said. "But I knew I was doing my job."
Mobile, though, went 14-3 to close the first half and overtake Mississippi and Jacksonville for first place in the South Division. Pitching was the key, and Holmberg led the way alongside 2011 first-round Draft pick Archie Bradley, Arizona's No. 1 prospect.
The BayBears finished with the league's best ERA in the first half, just ahead of Mississippi.
"Good pitching is contagious," Holmberg said. "We're all here to show what we can do. Competition breeds winning."
Holmberg doesn't have a fastball to rival Bradley's, but he is one of the most polished pitchers in the D-backs organization.
The graduate of Port Charlotte High School in Florida was just 19 when Arizona asked that he be included with Daniel Hudson in the 2010 deal that sent Edwin Jackson to the White Sox, but the D-backs already liked what they saw.
Three years later, Holmberg's development has become more important to Arizona.
Hudson won 16 games for the D-backs in 2011, but he has had two elbow surgeries since.
Holmberg, meanwhile, has stayed healthy, toned up his 6-foot-3 frame and made steady progress toward Arizona. His 173 innings with Class A Advanced Visalia and Mobile were the second most in the Minors last season.
Holmberg gave up a grand slam and another homer in a loss at Jackson on Sunday, dropping his record to 4-4. But his ERA of 2.68 was still one of the best in the Southern League.
Each season, the Diamondbacks have moved Holmberg up a level at some point. Triple-A Reno is a likely step this year, with an opportunity in Arizona late in the season not out of the question.
Reno is hard on pitching numbers, as is the Pacific Coast League overall. But Holmberg posted a 2.99 ERA with Visalia during the first half of last season in the hitter-friendly California League and would certainly be up for the challenge.
"I know it's a tough place to pitch," he said. "But I feel that pitching in a place like that can only make you better."
Red hot: Jackson outfielder Julio Morban was 9-for-20 with nine RBIs over a five-game stretch and took over the lead in the Southern League batting race with a .328 average. Seattle's No. 11 prospect missed the first couple of weeks of the season but has been on a tear since. Morban, 21, hit .306 in April, .349 in May and was at .310 for June through Sunday. He had two doubles, a homer and five RBIs against Mobile on Saturday.
On the move: Right-handed pitcher Erik Johnson, leading the Southern League with an 8-2 record and second in ERA at 2.23, was promoted from Birmingham to Triple-A Charlotte. The White Sox's No. 3 prospect had an SL-best three complete games, including a shutout, in 14 starts. Johnson, 23, also led the SL with a 0.98 WHIP and opponents were batting .192 against him. He had 74 strikeouts to 21 walks in 84 2/3 innings.
Back in swing: Tennessee first baseman Justin Bour returned after missing two months with a hairline fracture of his left wrist and homered in the first game of the second half Wednesday. He was second in the Southern League with 110 RBIs and was leading with 14 in 15 games when he was hit by a pitch April 19. Bour, who turned 25 while on the disabled list, had just a .211 average, but his slash line his carried an OBP of .337.