On June 26, Drew VerHagen walked five batters, struck out none and allowed four runs on four hits over 4 1/3 innings in his second Double-A start.
He wasn't shaken by the outing and stayed the course in his next start. The results since have been exceptional.
On Saturday, the Tigers' No. 15 prospect tossed a three-hitter for his first career complete-game shutout as the Erie SeaWolves blanked the Altoona Curve, 6-0.
Over his past two starts, VerHagen has logged 17 scoreless innings, allowing six hits while striking out eight and walking one.
The 22-year-old right-hander allowed a single to Adalberto Santos in the first and walked Justin Howard in the second but stranded both runners. He faced the minimum after that, though he required double plays in the fifth and sixth after allowing singles to Howard and Mel Rojas.
VerHagen's best pitch is a biting sinker that can run in the mid-90 mph range. He puts excellent movement on the offering and used it to generate 14 ground-ball outs Saturday.
"I would say I'm definitely keeping my fastball down in the zone," said VerHagen, who improved to 2-2. "I got a lot of ground-ball outs and I think that's one of my strengths."
By pounding the zone with that sinker, he was able to keep his pitch count to 100, 71 of which were strikes.
Saturday marked the first time the 2012 fourth-round pick logged a complete game as a pro. His previous career high was eight innings, which he accomplished Monday as he blanked Harrisburg on three hits. That eight-inning outing bested a seven-inning performance on June 5 with Class A Advanced Lakeland.
"I think it's definitely me being more efficient the last few times out," Verhagen said. "I'm eliminating the walks and not wasting pitches, just being more efficient with my pitches."
VerHagen's promising heater earned him a spot at the University of Oklahoma straight out of Rockwall Heath High School. He pitched 13 1/3 innings with a 3.38 ERA but transferred to Navarro Junior College in Texas the following year and won a Junior College World Series. He transferred again to Vanderbilt, where he made 27 appearances, including seven starts, and went 6-3 with a 3.50 ERA.
The Texas native fanned 37 over 69 1/3 innings at Vanderbilt and has continued to succeed in pro ball, despite underwhelming strikeout totals. In 12 appearances, including 11 starts, with Lakeland this year, VerHagen struck out 35 over 67 /13 innings but held opponents to a .207 average and posted a 2.81 ERA. He surrendered just one homer while walking 27.
His numbers look much the same since his promotion to the Eastern League late last month as he's fanned 16 and walked eight in 27 1/3 innings. He's yielded one homer and compiled a 1.65 ERA while keeping foes to a .154 batting average.
It's uncommon for a player with strikeout totals like that in the Minor Leagues to continue climbing the ladder with such success. And while VerHagen is succeeding with the SeaWolves, he could benefit from further development of his off-speed offerings.
MLB.com's Jonathan Mayo labeled his curveball and changeup as below-average pitches prior to the season, and VerHagen said that improving both has been a priority for him and Erie pitching coach Jaime Garcia. In particular, VerHagen has been trying to improve his arm speed on both pitches to help create more deception.
"I think Jaime and my High-A pitching coach, Mike Maroth, have both helped a lot," he said. "Jaime put in specific drills to work on the curve and the change that I think have definitely helped with staying consistent and throwing the ball for strikes."
The SeaWolves staked VerHagen to a lead before he took the mound as Tigers No. 12 prospect Hernan Perez hit an RBI triple and scored on a groundout in the top of the first. Luis Castillo and No. 7 prospect Eugenio Suarez added RBI single in the second to make it 4-0.
Altoona starter Nick Kingham (1-2) -- Pittsburgh's No. 13 prospect -- was charged with four runs on six hits over seven innings. The 21-year-old right-hander struck out five and walked one while throwing 98 pitches.