This isn't Chris Flexen's first stint in the Appalachian League, but he's definitely looking more comfortable in this go-round.
The Mets prospect recorded a career-high 11 strikeouts and allowed three hits and a walk over seven scoreless innings Sunday as Rookie-level Kingsport shut down Princeton, 8-1.
Flexen (3-1) was perfect in five of his seven frames, with the only blemishes coming in the second and sixth. David Garcia and Elias Torres singled in the second but were caught stealing by catcher Adrian Abreu.
Wilmer Dominguez's base hit in the seventh ended a streak of 13 straight Rays set down by the 19-year-old right-hander.
"I went out there feeling pretty good, the offense scored runs early, and pitching with the lead early gives you extra confidence," Flexen said. "I was able to locate pretty well with actually all of my pitches -- the fastball up and down and on the corners and the curve and changeup were working as well."
The gem was Flexen's second consecutive seven-inning effort following Monday's four-hit shutout of Burlington in the first game of a doubleheader. He fanned nine in that win, which stood as his career high for all of six days. Through five starts, he has a 1.93 ERA, a 1.04 WHIP and 31 strikeouts against eight walks over 28 innings.
"Today was probably the best outing of the year," Flexen said. "I could command my stuff better than normal."
Selected in the 14th round of the 2012 Draft out of Memorial High School in Newark, Calif., Flexen signed for a reported $374,400, above-slot money that kept him from pitching for Arizona State University. He made his pro debut later last year with Kingsport, where he was 1-3 with a 5.63 ERA in seven appearances.
Despite some growing pains, the assginment to the Appalachian League was necessitated by the Mets' lack of a Gulf Coast League affiliate. That made the move to the more advanced circuit -- and the struggles that came with it -- easier to swallow for Flexen.
"If we did have a GCL team, that's where I would've been and this would've been my Kingsport year anyway," he told MiLB.com earlier this week. "This extended [spring training] with all the pitching coaches, we hammered out some mechanical tweaks."
The results have been evident, not only by the 14 consecutive zeros he's posted but also in an increase in punchouts. After fanning 11 over 14 innings in his first three starts, Flexen has 20 strikeouts over 14 frames in his last two starts. He ranks third in the league in that category, trailing only Pulaski's Edwin Diaz (36) and Bluefield's Shane Dawson (32).
Center fielder Champ Stuart went 3-for-4 with a double, two RBIs, two runs scored and a stolen base out of the leadoff spot for the Mets. Victor Cruzado chipped in two hits and also drove in a pair of runs.
Rays starter Jorge Rodriguez fell to 0-4 after giving up four runs on seven hits and two walks in 4 2/3 innings. Batterymate Wilmer Dominguez went 2-for-3 and drove in Princeton's only run in the eighth.