Fresno's Mike Kickham had never faced the Iowa Cubs before Sunday, but he already knew everything he needed to know about his opponents.
Chalk this one up to the benefits of charting.
The Giants' No. 3 prospect allowed two hits and faced one batter over the minimum over eight scoreless innings as the Grizzlies posted a 4-1 road win over the Cubs.
You can give an assist to his performance 24 hours earlier.
Charting, for those not familiar with scout-speak and baseball jargon, is the process of keeping track of each pitch thrown by another pitcher on your team. At the Minor League level, in particular, it's the job of the person who follows that pitcher in the rotation.
His role is to take specific pitch-by-pitch information, making notes about pitch selection and location as well as observations about the opposing team at the plate. He highlights hitter tendencies -- who hacks away early, who takes first-pitch breaking balls, who can't handle the fastball inside. That kind of stuff.
So, knowing he was scheduled to start against Iowa on Sunday, Kickham spent Saturday evening diligently studying his opponent.
"Yesterday, Eric Surkamp threw a really good game," he said. "One thing I noticed was that in seven innings he only had seven two-strike opportunities. They were hacking early and not even getting to two strikes, so they were putting the ball in play early. They were putting it in play in no-strike or one-strike counts.
"They're an aggressive team, and in the three games prior to this, they swung early. I knew that coming in, so I kept the ball down and moved it in and out. [Throwing first-pitch strikes] was my first priority. When you throw strike one, statistically, batting averages go way down, so that's always the goal. I really wanted to stress that early."
Kickham (6-7) struck out three and did not issue a walk in lowering his ERA to 4.41. He threw 64 of 91 pitches for strikes and induced 15 ground-ball outs, thanks in part to an effective two-seam fastball.
The 24-year-old left-hander allowed a leadoff single to Tim Torres in the third inning but immediately erased him on Cael Brockmeyer's double play.
Edgar Gonzalez singled to left field with two outs in the seventh but was the Cubs' last baserunner against Kickham, who left for a pinch-hitter in the top of the ninth.
Offensively, Iowa ranks among the bottom three Pacific Coast League teams in several categories, including batting average, runs scored, RBIs and on-base percentage. And he was able to exploit those weaknesses.
Now in his fourth year of pro ball, Kickham has been particularly efficient over his past three starts. He allowed one hit over 6 2/3 innings against Round Rock on July 31 and spun six shutout frames against Albuquerque six days ago.
The perfectionist in Kickham wants to do better.
"I was just trying to build on the last couple outings I've had," said the Missouri State product, who helped himself with a third-inning RBI double. "In those, I was struggling to throw first-pitch strikes, and that was what I did today. I'm making the slight adjustments from start to start and ... today was the best I've felt. I felt like I did my job and threw strikes and got ahead.
"In those [past two games], I did enough to have a good outing and get the win, but there were still things to improve on. There are still adjustments I'll make before the next start. I don't want to be complacent."
That's one of the reasons Kickham takes his charting duties seriously. Another is his unusual schedule.
He's made 19 Triple-A starts and faced 13 different teams. He's pitched against nine of those squads just once and has faced only two teams more than twice.
"I'm happy with the win, of course, but I'm always looking to see what adjustments I can make to take my game to the next level," said Kickham who, for example, has never pitched against Las Vegas, one of three opponents in the Pacific Southern Division with Fresno. "There's a fine line between overthinking and trying to change too much."
That much was evident when he got his first taste of life in "The Show."
In five Major League games, the 2010 sixth-round Draft pick is 0-3 with a 10.61 ERA.
"I made my pitches and got outs and had some success, but when I fell behind I was exposed," he said. "Playing through that experience is the best way. The results have not been what I wanted, but it showed me what I needed to do to be consistent and be successful at that level."
On Sunday, George Kontos replaced Kickham in the ninth but lost the shutout after allowing three consecutive one-out singles.
Grizzlies second baseman Nick Noonan doubled twice, drove in a run and scored once, while right fielder Juan Perez collected a pair of hits to raise his average to .305.
Iowa starter Yoanner Negrin (3-6) yielded three runs -- one earned -- on five hits and a walk while striking out seven batters over six innings.