On Aug. 17, Idaho Falls starter Patrick Conroy did something he hadn't done in nearly a year: He lost.
"I guess I wasn't able to command the fastball like I usually do," Conroy said of his first defeat of the season at the hands of Great Falls. "I had to go off-speed earlier in the game, and that kind of caught up to me later. There were just a couple pitches that I didn't throw where I wanted to, and I paid for it."
Despite the loss, the left-handed Conroy said he "threw fine" that night at Melaleuca Field in Idaho Falls, allowing four earned runs on seven hits in five innings. It was his first loss since last Aug. 25 while pitching with Burlington of the Appalachian League.
By all accounts, Conroy is off to a stellar start to his professional career. With a career 10-3 record in 21 starts between Idaho Falls and Burlington -- both Rookie-level affiliates of the Kansas City Royals -- Conroy has impressed as a 32nd-round Draft selection in 2012 out of the College of Marin just north of San Francisco.
"I view myself as a competitor. I don't like to lose," Conroy said. "I try to compete every pitch."
Conroy won his first five decisions this season and currently owns the best ERA in the Pioneer League at 2.95. Through Aug. 20, his 51 strikeouts rank tied for fourth and his WHIP of 1.33 ranks third in the circuit. Conroy's signature start came Aug. 10 at Grand Junction when he took a perfect game into the seventh inning.
As Conroy describes it, he's not one to overpower hitters with his fastball. So he relies on location and an array of breaking pitches, including a knuckle-curve he's worked to include in his arsenal this season.
"At the start of the year, I was just a conventional curveball, slider, changeup, fastball pitcher," Conroy said. "I was having trouble with consistency with the curve, so [pitching coach Steve Merriman] had me learn a 'spiked' curveball, and I've been throwing it ever since.
"It definitely takes time to adjust. Coming into the pro game, I've always prided myself on being able to make adjustments quickly. I guess it doesn't surprise me too much. But I've also had tremendous help along the way."
With regard to his progression through the Royals system, Conroy isn't too concerned that he's spent his first two professional seasons in two Rookie leagues.
Conroy's numbers speak for themselves. It's just a matter of keeping his focus to move up the ladder.
"That's definitely a goal," he said. "It's been a goal ever since I was in extended [spring training]. Hopefully I can keep working hard this offseason and stay consistent, and then come Spring Training I'll be throwing a little bit better and move on up."
Dueling statistics: Grand Junction's Miguel Dilone and Great Falls' Corey Thompson put up nearly identical numbers Aug. 14. Dilone went 4-for-6, scored three runs, hit two homers and drove in six runs in a 16-12 win over Missoula, while Thompson was 3-for-6 and matched Dilone's run, homer and RBI totals in a 16-11 win over Ogden.
Live arm: Billings right-hander Ben Lively continued his dominance, throwing three more perfect innings in his latest start Aug. 18. Lively has retired 23 in a row over the course of his past three starts, lowering his ERA to 0.79 in 34 innings.
Big bats: Last week was a big one for offenses. Teams broke the double-digit barrier for runs 12 times between Aug. 11-17, with Missoula and Idaho Falls leading the way. Both clubs reached 10 or more three times, with Missoula doing it on consecutive nights, scoring a total of 42 runs in that span.