In terms that might be more familiar to Cincinnati pitching prospect Amir Garrett, Dayton pitching coach Tony Fossas thought the 21-year-old's performance Monday night was more or less a layup.
"Today, it was an easy game for him," Fossas said. "He just dominated with the fastball."
Garrett's mid-90-mph heater overwhelmed West Michigan for six innings en route to a 5-4 victory in 13 frames. The left-handed pitcher -- who is also still an active NCAA basketball player -- allowed just two baserunners, walking one and allowing a solo homer to Connor Harrell. The Reds' No. 15 prospect struck out four and threw 50 of his 78 pitches for strikes.
Monday's start was Garrett's fourth with the Dragons.In that time, he's struck out nine and walked seven over 18 1/3 innings, posting a 4.91 ERA.
When Garrett is going well, it's because he's able to locate his fastball, which sits 93-94 mph and ticks up to 96, according to Fossas.
"Today [Garrett] had the ability to really keep the ball down," his pitching coach said. "He used both sides of the plate, and pitched up effectively. He was throwing hard and that always helps. His fastball has some good, late action when he's throwing it downhill.
"He's 6-foot-6, and when you're that big and you're throwing the ball downhill, that's tough to hit."
Garrett struck out Jared Reaves and Jason King in the first inning and retired the first five batters he faced before issuing a walk to Lance Durham. The hurler maintained a no-hitter through four innings before Harrell led off the fifth with a homer to left. Garrett retired the next six batters in order to wrap up the outing.
The 21-year-old is one of the Minor Leagues' most unique stories. The Reds drafted him in the 22nd round of the 2011 Draft knowing he planned to attend St. John's University to play basketball that fall. Cincinnati signed the projectable left-hander for a reported $1 million with the promise to let him continue his basketball career with the Red Storm.
He's been playing both sports since, with moderate success at both. Garrett averaged 20.1 minutes per game for St. John's last season, scoring 5.4 points and 4.3 rebounds per contest as an undersized power forward. Those minutes were down from the 26.9 he averaged as a freshman, and in April, the 6-foot-6 multi-sport athlete announced via Twitter that he was leaving the St. John's program.
In May, Garrett announced he was transferring to Cal State-Northridge, which is closer to his hometown of Los Angeles. He'll have to sit out the season to abide by NCAA transfer rules. After that, he will get two more years of eligibility with the Matadors, who are coached by former Sacramento Kings coach Reggie Theus.
On the mound, Garrett oozes potential, starting with his mid-90s heater. MLB.com's Jonathan Mayo said prior to the season that the left-hander is especially raw for his age, but added that Garrett may have "David Price-like upside" if he would focus solely on baseball and reach his ceiling.
Fossas sees the same ceiling, and said after Monday's game, he thought Garrett was handcuffing himself by playing both sports. The pitching coach said he's impressed by Garrett's athleticism and fastball command, but thinks the hurler's secondary pitches will only improve if he can dedicate himself to pitching complete seasons.
The past two years, the left-hander has had to wait until the end of the spring college semester to return to baseball, Fossas said. The result is that he's thrown just 62 innings over his first two professional seasons, which has slowed his development.
"He needs, in my opinion, to take baseball full time," Fossas said. "I think he could one day be a Major League pitcher. It takes time. It takes time to develop your delivery where your delivery can be consistent with all your pitches.
"He has a tendency to change his delivery with his changeup and his curveball. It becomes where he's throwing a fastball with one delivery and the curve and change with another."
Fossas, who has been in professional baseball since the Texas Rangers drafted him in the 12th round in 1979, thinks Garrett would succeed if he completely committed to the game.
"He's a real quality young man," Fossas said. "He works extremely hard. You really have to give him a lot of credit on that. He's a young man who doesn't really have any time off. Last year, I had him for two or three starts in Billings, and then he went to play basketball, then he played a full season and then he was right into baseball. His body hasn't had the chance to rest.
"Talking about Minor League Baseball, you're taking bus rides and there are all types of different hours. There are a lot of things going on at the lower levels, and I should say in the Minor Leagues, that you don't see in the Major Leagues. He needs to experience that long season to go through the ups and downs of a full season to continue to develop."
The teams were deadlocked at 4-4 until the 13th inning, when Dayton jumped ahead on Tanner Rahier's sacrifice fly. Rahier finished with two doubles, three RBIs and two runs scored.