As one of the youngest players in the Midwest League, Zach Eflin didn't feel like he belonged early in the season. On Monday night, he showed he belongs and then some.
The Padres' No. 12 prospect gave up just one single and struck out four in seven innings to earn the win as Class A Fort Wayne two-hit Lansing in a 2-0 victory at Parkview Field.
"I felt great on the mound. The biggest thing I've been really working on all year is throwing strikes, getting ahead, keeping the ball down and pitching to contact and it's starting to work out," Eflin said.
Since the start of May, Eflin (6-5) has posted an ERA of 2.20 -- second-best in the Midwest League during that span. He has been excellent in his last 10 starts, going 4-1 with a 2.17 ERA. He has struck out 40 strikeouts while walking only 12 in 58 innings. The 2012 first-round Draft pick has fared even better in his past four starts, posting a 1.37 ERA in 26 1/3 innings, to drop his season ERA to 2.81, seventh-best in the Midwest League.
"Early in the season, I felt like I didn't really deserve to be in low A," the 19-year-old said. "I felt like an older guy deserved my spot, but now I feel like I fit in. I'm a lot more confident with my pitches, throwing a lot more strikes, pitching low and pitching to contact. It's all starting to come together."
Eflin needed just 80 pitches -- 53 for strikes -- to complete his seven innings, which tied a career high. He has finished the seventh inning twice for the TinCaps in 2013 after throwing seven total innings over four appearances last season for the Rookie-level Arizona League Padres in his professional debut.
"I want to go back out for more, but I understand the situation I'm in," he said. "I understand how they're trying to take care of us with an innings limit of seven or a pitch limit of 95. Obviously I understand, but I think anyone would say they want to go back out for more."
The 6-foot-4 right-hander allowed a single to Jordan Leyland with one out in the second inning and a two-out walk to Dwight Smith in the third and then retired the final 13 batters he faced.
"The biggest thing was learning to throw to these batters," Eflin said. "It's the third time I've faced them, and I was able to pitch to their swing, to learn what they hit on me, focus on their weakness and try to pound their weakness."
The shutout was the 12th time this season Lansing has failed to score a run. The TinCaps have gone 12-3 so far in the season series against the Lugnuts.
Jorge Guzman picked up a strikeout in a 1-2-3 eighth and Chris Nunn fanned one while working around a single in the ninth to pick up his eighth save.
Gabriel Quintana raised his average to .300 by going 2-for-3 with a run scored and an RBI and Mallex Smith recorded his league-leading 50th stolen base when he swiped second in the first.