Sean Nolin's lone appearance in the Major Leagues this season got him thinking.
The Blue Jays' No. 8 prospect returned to Double-A New Hampshire determined to take a more hands-on approach in his pitch calling. It's apparently working out for him too, the 23-year-old left-hander logged eight scoreless innings in a 5-0 win over Portland.
Nolin allowed four hits and two walks while striking out nine. The hurler hasn't allowed a run in any of his past three starts, spanning 19 2/3 innings, with 23 strikeouts and four walks. He has a 2.09 ERA for the season with a 70-14 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 64 2/3 frames, and has allowed one or fewer runs in six of his nine starts since making a spot start in Toronto on May 24.
The big league outing didn't go especially well -- the 2010 sixth-round pick allowed six earned runs on seven hits over 1 1/3 innings, but the experience proved beneficial to the San Jacinto Junior College product's game.
"I'm definitely trying to call my own game a little more on what I see," Nolin said. "I'm the one throwing my pitches, so whatever I throw will hurt me.
"Just reading hitters, what they do on the pitch before or how they're standing on the dish can help me decide what to throw."
The 6-foot-5 left-hander doesn't have an overpowering fastball, but he features good command and an assortment of off-speed pitches. Nolin backs up the pitch with a change-up, a slider and a curveball, and he feels comfortable and confident mixing the quartet of offerings to suit the situation.
"Once you get a feel on the mound, you try to first locate your fastball," he said. "Then whatever is feeling good that day for secondary stuff, you go off that. It's not always the same."
Nolin worked his change-up off his fastball for much of the night Monday. He nabbed a pair of punchouts in the first inning and retired the side in order in five of his frames. In the eighth, he allowed a leadoff single to Derrik Gibson, but then induced a ground-ball double play. After walking Heiker Meneses and Peter Hissey, the left-hander got Christian Vazquez to ground out to finish his effort.
The hurler has found success a few different ways of late. Against New Britain on July 3, Nolin primarily stuck to his fastball. His velocity was up a tick and the pitch was working, and he allowed five hits and struck out seven over 6 2/3 scoreless innings.
The slider is the newest offering in Nolin's repertoire. The hurler picked up the pitch while in college and has made steady strides with it since.
"I've been a fastball-curveball-change guy since high school," he said. "The curve was always big, and it had that 12-6 break. It threw off a lot of younger guys, but once I got to my second year of college, I started throwing the slider.
"I worked on getting the spin down and trying to throw it like my heater and still get the spin there. My slider has definitely been going better than the curve, but the curve is still there, just to show it and have a different off-speed pitch."
Nolin's effort was aided Monday by a home run by rehabbing Melky Cabrera. The 28-year-old was placed on the disabled list on June 28 with left knee tendinitis. The outfielder played two games with Class A Advanced Dunedin before joining New Hampshire.
"It definitely gives us some good incentive, trying to play up to him," Nolin said. "He hit the home run in the fifth, and it was kind of a kick-start for the rest of us for the rest of the game."