Chris Cotton was one of the top relievers in the country during his four years at Louisiana State. So, naturally, making just his second start since high school, he was downright perfect.
The Astros prospect pitched five innings -- two more than he threw in any collegiate appearance -- without allowing a hit or a walk and struck out five as short-season Tri-City edged Batavia, 5-4.
"I was able to just get ahead with the fastball, able to locate it in and out, especially on the inside," Cotton said. "My catcher [Ernesto Genoves] did a great job. I think I shook him off maybe two times, we were just working and had a rhythm."
In his junior year at LSU, Cotton registered a 1.59 ERA in 36 relief appearances, striking out 40 batters and walking seven over 45 1/3 innings. He was even better as the Tigers' senior closer, notching 16 saves, recording a 1.16 ERA and striking out 47 against three walks in 46 2/3 innings.
Cotton, who never pitched more than three innings at LSU (most recently on June 8, 2012), said the transition to starting was a nice challenge. So far, he's risen to it, compiling a 0.96 ERA with seven strikeouts and no walks over 9 1/3 innings.
"It's a lot different. Honestly, the last time I think I [threw at least five innings] was my senior year of high school," he said. "It's a lot of patience. I think in the first inning tonight every pitch I threw was a fastball, and I was able to keep it down, but I didn't have any strikeouts. The next time around [the order], I could throw off-speed stuff that they hadn't seen.
"That's something I still need to work on, to limit my pitches they see [early]. It's a lot different because in closing you're able to go out there and throw all three pitches when you want. You have to have patience starting."
In addition to a fastball that runs in the mid- to high-80s, Cotton said he throws a changeup and curve. The changeup was key to finishing off batters after getting them in an 0-2 hole on Saturday, he noted.
It's been an interesting career path for the Astros' 14th-round pick in last month's Draft. He wasn't even slated to play baseball at LSU but earned a roster spot as a walk-on.
"It's just a step-by-step thing," the 22-year-old left-hander said. "I remember saying I never would've thought I'd be at LSU [for baseball]. It was the school I loved growing up and I knew I'd go there academically, but I tried to walk on and somehow made it. Kept coming back each year and when I got drafted, it was unexpected, honestly. Truly a dream to be playing a kid's game and having a blast."
Ronnie Mitchell sparked the ValleyCats offensively. He doubled and scored the game's first run in the top of the second, then provided much-needed insurance in the eighth with a two-run homer, his second of the season.
Scott Carcaise blasted a pair of solo shots for the Muckdogs.