Tyler DeLoach reported to Spring Training six months ago with the optimism that accompanies every Minor Leaguer fighting to be noticed. Five months later, he was still in Arizona, taking the mound on empty practice fields in extended spring training games.
"It was pretty frustrating," DeLoach said. "But I know there's a lot of things I had to work on."
His efforts paid off on Friday night when the Angels prospect recorded a career-high 12 strikeouts over seven innings in Class A Burlington's 3-0 blanking of West Michigan at Community Field.
DeLoach (4-2), a 2012 26th-round Draft pick, held the Whitecaps to four hits in his seventh start. He's won three straight decisions and sports a 2.48 ERA that would rank third in the Midwest League if he had enough innings to quality. Suddenly, those extended spring workouts seem like forever ago.
"Hopefully, I've showed them I can start and go deep into the games," he said. "I just need to throw strikes and, hopefully, I showed them tonight what I've been working on."
DeLoach came out of his debut season with hopes of moving up in the Angels system. Instead, the organization held him back in Arizona to iron out mechanical issues and work on his consistency throwing strikes. He finally got a chance to join a Minor League club last month when he was assigned to Burlington. Over 40 innings with the Bees, he's got 44 strikeouts.
"I worked on some things, consistency in the strike zone, working on my fastball, change and curve," DeLoach said. "I got the call to come up here, made a start, did well and they've let me start. I'm thankful for them to give me this opportunity."
The 22-year-old left-hander turned in the best start of pro career Friday, pitching around a single in the first before tossing back-to-back 1-2-3 innings. He worked around a pair of singles in the fourth, struck out two in a perfect fifth, survived a leadoff double by Danry Vasquez in the sixth and struck out the side in the seventh.
DeLoach's best escape job came in the fourth, when Vasquez and Jared Reaves hit consecutive singles and Jake Stewart reached on an error by first baseman Garrett Cannizaro to load the bases. The North Carolina-Wilmington product struck out Connor Harrell to end the inning before fanning two more in the fifth.
"My main goal was to establish the fastball in. And I know the fourth inning I had a few runners on, but we had some strikeouts," he said. "My defense made a lot of good plays, kept me in the game."
DeLoach made 12 relief appearances for Rookie-level Orem last year, finishing with a 6.75 ERA and 15 strikeouts in 12 innings.
"My last inning, I know I racked up a few, but during the game strikeouts isn't anything I was thinking about," the 6-foot-6 southpaw said. "Just stick with the game plan, pound the zone, throw it in, make them hit it."
DeLoach found success even though he did not have much confidence in his curveball. Warming up for the seventh, the curve found life and he decided to work in a few.
"I was feeling really good and the whole game I struggled with the curve, but the last inning I found it, I was able to get some strikeouts," he said. "I kept throwing curveballs and they were swinging over it."
Perhaps it an indication of DeLoach's maturity and ability to adapt on the mound. Since refining his approach in Arizona, he's worked at least five innings in six of seven starts and is holding opponents to a .190 average.
"I had a great coaching staff, they helped me develop a changeup and consistently stay in the zone," he said. "I know to make a team that's what I needed to do. It was helpful experience."
But it wasn't ideal. No one dreams of pitching in simulated games in front of organization instructors.
"I was so excited to get out of extended, but this is a great group of guys and a good staff. It's been fun since day one," DeLoach said. "Our team is starting to get together and make a run for a playoffs, so it's been everything I hoped for."