After four months of pitching in the Carolina League, Kyle Smith recently was acquired by the Astros, who assigned him to their Class A Advanced affiliate in Lancaster. It didn't take long for the former Royals prospect to note the key difference between the Carolina and California leagues.
"The ball flies a lot better here than in the Carolina League," he said.
One night after High Desert piled up 30 runs on 30 hits, Smith silenced the Mavericks in their notoriously hitter-friendly confines, pitching a complete-game two-hitter for a 6-0 victory in his second start for the JetHawks.
Smith (1-0) threw 75 of 102 pitches for strikes in the first complete game of his two-year Minor League career. Houston's No. 15 prospect recorded a season-high nine strikeouts, hit a batter and did not issue a walk.
The performance was especially notable considering the teams combined for 38 runs the night before at Mavericks Stadium.
"I've never seen that in a baseball game, period. That was something out of this world," Smith said.
Smith (1-0) was acquired from the Royals for outfielder Justin Maxwell at the July 31 Trade Deadline. In his Cal League debut on Aug. 3, he surrendered four runs on four hits and retired only two batters before being pulled.
Smith and JetHawks pitching coach Don Alexander went to work in the bullpen. Goal No. 1 was to improve the fluidity of Smith's delivery and, by accomplishing that, he was able to find better fastball command Saturday. The other adjustment was in the way he throws his changeup, which made the pitch a formidable offering for the first time in a while.
"My fastball command was a lot better than it was in the last outing," the 20-year-old right-hander said. "I was in and out to both sides of the plate for strikes and balls, which kept them off-balance. I was throwing the breaking ball for strikes, which helps. And it was the first game in a while where I was able to throw the changeup for strikes.
"I found [the changeup] and felt comfortable with it after my last side session. In the bullpen, it was there. It wasn't quite for a strike, but it had good movement and action, which gave me a lot of confidence to use it in the game."
Smith retired his first seven batters before yielding a fly-ball single to Steve Baron with one out in the third. Baron was forced at second and Smith ended the inning by striking out Jamal Austin. He didn't allow another baserunner until the seventh. With two outs, Patrick Kivlehan singled and Steve Proscia got plunked. But Smith retired Patrick Brady on a groundout to escape the jam.
The Mavericks never put another man on base as Smith struck out Kevin Rivers to end the gem.
The 6-foot right-hander was pitching with the Royals' Class A Advanced affiliate, Wilmington, before the trade. In 19 starts for the Blue Rocks, he was 5-4 with a 2.85 ERA, 96 strikeouts and 29 walks over 104 1/3 innings.
Selected in the fourth round of the 2011 Draft, Smith spent most of last season with Class A Kane County, where he went 4-3 with a 2.94 ERA in 13 starts. Over 67 1/3 innings, he struck out 87, walked 20 and allowed only three homers.
His time with Lancaster has been a positive experience, he said.
"The team is great. The guys are very friendly," he said. "They've made the transition to the California League easy. They've treated me like I've been here the whole year. They've made it enjoyable since I got here. It makes it a little easier, makes you feel like you fit in and more comfortable. That's helped."
As they did in Friday's slugfest, the JetHawks scored in the top of the first as Astros No. 8 prospect Delino DeShields was hit by a pitch and Nolan Fontana walked. Both runners moved up on a wild pitch and DeShields came home on a fielder's choice by Andrew Aplin.
Unlike Friday, the score remained 1-0 until the seventh when Jesse Wierzbicki drilled a two-run homer and Joe Sclafani delivered an RBI double. Fontana capped the scoring with a two-run single in the ninth.