It started in the front yard of his home in North Augusta, S.C., when Taylor Guerrieri was 10 years old. Turns out, getting a feel for a two-seamer at such a young age has helped make Guerrieri a rising star in the Rays' organization.
A 6-foot-3, 195-pound right-hander, Guerrieri was a first-round pick (No. 24 overall) in 2011 and is ranked as the No. 2 prospect in the Rays' organization by MLB.com. The 20-year-old is currently riding a 22-inning scoreless streak for the Bowling Green Hot Rods, a franchise record, and was just selected to the All-Star Futures Game.
During his streak, Guerrieri has struck out 16, walked four and given up 17 hits. He is 6-2 with a 2.08 ERA in 13 starts this year, his first full season in the pros.
Guerrieri's streak started from the ashes of a disastrous outing against South Bend on June 2, when he gave up six runs in four innings.
"I didn't make any mechanical changes after that game," Guerrieri said. "You realize what you're made of when you get hit hard. You know what you're up against, and you try to make everything better for there on out. I came out of that game more humble than anything, realizing I wasn't as good as I thought I was. It could've been just a bad day. I tried to turn it into a learning moment. I realize that I'll get hit hard -- I just have to keep working hard and not let that happen."
Bowling Green manager Jared Sandberg said Guerrieri's ability to command his two-seam fastball has been critical to his success.
"What's amazing is he throws mostly two-seam fastballs," Sandberg said. "To keep his walk totals down and command a two-seam fastball is pretty spectacular. That's what he does very well, and he's got the power breaking ball and the power changeup to go with it."
This season, Guerrieri has issued 11 walks and struck out 50 in 65 innings. Last season, he was 1-2 with a 1.04 ERA at Class A Short-Season Hudson Valley, walking only five and striking out 45 in 52 innings.
"I grew up throwing a two-seamer," Guerrieri said. "I'm honestly just learning to pitch a four-seam. Growing up, it always felt natural to throw a two-seamer, so that's what I've always thrown. The movement is pretty consistent. When you have the same consistent movement, you figure out what your ball is going to do, and that makes it much easier.
"Nobody taught me the two-seamer. I was just playing catch with my dad in the front yard and had a two-seamer in my hand," he said. "It just felt right. Most people grow up throwing four seams. It was a just a natural instinct to go with a two-seamer, and I stayed with it all the way through high school. The results were good, so why change it?"
Sandberg said Guerrieri has great potential.
"This is a kid who has tremendous talent," Sandberg said. "He goes out there and competes each time he gets on the mound. I don't think he's changed much [during the streak]. I think he has a better feel for his breaking ball, and that's become more consistent. The changeup is involved, at times, both to left-handed and right-handed hitters. He commands both sides of the plate and is not afraid to throw strikes. For a young pitcher, even just to get roughed up the one time, he came back and has put together a nice string, and he hasn't left the strike zone.
"This is a kid who is mature beyond his years," he added. "He gets out on the mound and stands out there like he's been pitching a long time. He's a student of the game. The way that he can look at a swing, look at a hitter, dissect how he wants to pitch to that particular hitter or team, is way beyond his years."
Cabrera rehab: National League stolen base leader Everth Cabrera has played two games for Fort Wayne this week. Cabrera, hitless in seven plate appearances with a walk and a run scored for the TinCaps, had 31 steals and a .305 average for the San Diego Padres when he suffered a hamstring injury.
Baserunner blunder: The Lansing Lugnuts started to celebrate what they thought was a walk-off victory on July 1 after Chris Hawkins belted a single up the middle, but the celebration didn't last. Great Lakes center-fielder James Baldwin fired a throw to second baseman Kevin Taylor, and Lansing's Santiago Nessy, who was at first, was called out for failing to touch second. After heading to the clubhouse on a high note, the Lugnuts learned about the umpire's disputed decision and came back to the field to play two more innings -- they ended up losing to Great Lakes, 5-4.
Streak ends: Cedar Rapids' winning streak ended at 11 games with a 5-4 loss July 2 against Beloit. The Kernels rallied from a 5-1 deficit, but the comeback fell short.