Nobody told Chris Stratton to throw mostly fastballs early this season, but the he did it anyway.
The Giants' No. 2 prospect wanted to improve the command of his heater, so he threw it a lot. He threw it in fastball counts and he threw it in off-speed counts. And over time, he grew confident in his ability to control the offering.
Having improved his fastball command, Stratton has brought back the rest of his arsenal, and that's been bad news for South Atlantic League Hitters. On Friday night, he victimized Charleston in the longest outing of his career, striking out seven over eight innings in Class A Augusta's 6-0 victory.
Stratton (8-3) allowed four hits and walked three while trimming his ERA to 3.22. The 22-year-old left-hander has given up just one earned run over his past three starts, throwing seven shutout innings against Lakewood on July 19. For the season, he has 109 strikeouts and 40 walks over 106 1/3 innings.
The Mississippi State product said in late-May that his goal at the time was to master the glove-side fastball -- down and away from right-handed hitters. He thinks he's made major strides in that department through his work with pitching coach Steve Kline.
"Without a doubt," Stratton said when asked if he'd improved. "It was something where I maybe threw too many fastballs two months ago, but it's really paying off now. I'm actually getting to work in my other pitches and I think it's helped me develop those other pitches.
"When you can get down and away from any hitter, it's tough to hit so far from your eyes. It looks forever away. It can be your safe pitch in a 2-0 situation. That's something Steve Kline talks about a lot, too. You always have to have one pitch in one spot you can go to that won't be hit hard, will get soft contact. That's really what I was working on, and it's paying off now."
The decision to throw so many fastballs early on was entirely Stratton's.
"They didn't necessarily tell me, 'Hey, go throw all fastballs today,'" he said. "I took it upon myself to work on that. I could've been in a situation to throw a slider and get the punchout, but I went with the fastball. It was something I wanted to work on. If you can locate that fastball, that's big. You can't keep moving up without it."
Stratton had the fastball command working Friday, mixing the pitch with his off-speed offerings. The RiverDogs started six right-handed hitters, so the southpaw was able to work primarily off his fastball and slider, sprinkling in a few changeups and curveballs.
The 20th overall pick in last year's Draft struck out Danny Oh to start the game and, after allowing a double to Angelo Gumbs and walking Greg Bird, induced a double play from Reymond Nunez to end the first inning. Only two batters got past first base against Stratton over the next six frames.
In the eighth, Francisco Rosario drew a two-out walk and Oh followed with a single to center. But Stratton struck out Gumbs to complete his gem.
"Early on, I went after him with a fastball on the first pitch and he turned on it," Stratton said, referencing Gumbs' first-inning double. "It was a good pitch, the one I wanted, and I knew he would swing. He just happened to get it down the line. I'll take that, especially with the early contact.
"I knew coming up there [in the eighth] he would try to put the ball in the air, try to hit it hard and knew he'd be looking for fastballs. I went with the slider first pitch, then a curve on the next pitch, and he swung at both. Then I threw him two heaters up, then a slider that got him. It was a good call by [catcher Ben] Turner."
Stratton wasn't sure of his exact pitch count but said it's typically around 100 and thought he threw about that many Friday. It was the first time he'd thrown more than seven innings in a Minor League game.
"I was being more efficient today. I got a lot of swings early," he said. "They're an aggressive team. You can't give them any cookies, but you have to go after them early and let them get themselves out. I had a lot of three pitch or less at-bats today."
Ian Gardeck struck out Ericson Leonora to cap a 1-2-3 ninth and finish off the GreenJackets' 10th shutout of the season.