How good is Matt Taylor's sinker when he has the pitch working?
Over his last nine starts, he's allowed only two home runs. Those long balls came from Hickory teammates Joey Gallo and Ryan Rua, who have been battling each other for the Minor League lead most of the season.
So when Taylor took some of his best stuff into his Friday night start at Lexington, the Legends were faced with a difficult task. For a career-high eight innings, the Orioles prospect got the better of the battle, retiring 16 straight at one point while allowing just one hit.
Lexington got the last laugh, however, posting a 2-1, 14-inning victory over Delmarva.
It was the strongest performance of an encouraging season for Taylor, who lowered his ERA to 3.38.
"I think that from the beginning of the game, me and Wynston Sawyer, my catcher, had a game plan," he . "Our game plan really was to throw a lot of sinkers and then the changeup behind it. We stuck with that pretty much all game."
The 2011 fifth-round pick struck out five batters, walked three and has not allowed an earned run over 13 innings in his last two starts.
Taylor allowed a single to Royals No. 6 prospect Raul Mondesi in the first but induced a ground-ball double play a batter later as he faced the minimum over the first six innings.
The 22-year-old left-hander retired the next 16 batters before walking Mondesi, who stole second but was stranded as Mark Threlkeld struck out, Royals top prospect Bubba Starling walked and Cameron Gallagher flied to right field.
In the eighth, Taylor issued a two-out walk to Kenny Diekroeger, then retired Yowill Espinal on a groundout on his final pitch of the night.
Taylor recorded 12 outs on the ground and five in the air. While he did not allow any earned runs in his previous outing against Hagerstown, he did walk six batters while allowing four unearned runs on five hits over five innings.
Between starts, Taylor worked with pitching coach Justin Lord to correct some mechanical flaws he felt had shaken his fastball command.
"We went into the bullpen in between starts and hammered some things out," Taylor said. "I was working on getting my foot down earlier and letting everything happen out front. That's a big reason why I think things went well tonight."
The adjustment was one Taylor has occasionally had to make. When the 6-foot-1 southpaw has his timing in sync, his sinker command can be as good as it was Friday and the pitch also gets its maximum drop.
That extra polish has been especially key for Taylor this season as he's continued to adjust from relieving to starting. After signing with the Orioles in 2011, the Middle Georgia College product worked exclusively in relief in the Gulf Coast and New York-Penn leagues.
From there, he jumped to Delmarva, where he began last year in the bullpen. After posting a 3.73 ERA in 11 relief appearances, Taylor made the conversion to starting in late May. He allowed an earned run on five hits over six innings in his debut and compiled a 4.59 ERA in 12 starts to finish the season.
He's made 15 starts this year, logging 65 strikeouts and 41 walks while surrendering only three homers. As he made the conversion, Taylor based his between-start habits off what he saw last season from fellow Orioles farmhands Dylan Bundy and Tyler Wilson.
"I watched their work habits and the way they went from start to start," Taylor said. "I learned from them and I've carried that over to this year so I can try to be ready to take the ball every fifth day.
Friday's game remained scoreless into the 14th inning. The Shorebirds broke the tie in the top half, with Lucas Herbst driving in Sawyer with a single to left.
Lexington answered in the bottom of the inning. After Mondesi reached on a two-base error, Threlkeld doubled him home with the tying run. Threlkeld scored the winning run on Gallagher's single to center.
Lexington starter Crawford Simmons struck out 11 over six innings, holding Delmarva to three hits. The 22-year-old lefty had fanned only 16 in five South Atlantic League starts.