In a year of impressive ups and disappointing downs, it's Sam Selman's ability to continually bounce back that's becoming something of a trademark characteristic.
"Sometimes you're the bug," the Royals' No. 15 prospect said. "And sometimes you're the windshield."
In keeping with the metaphor, Selmon was trucking down the highway Saturday night. He produced what he deemed the best outing of his career, holding Potomac without a hit through eight innings while tying a career high with 11 strikeouts in Wilmington's 1-0, 10-inning victory.
The 22-year-old left-hander was dominant out of the gate, then struck out four of the final five batters he faced while walking only two. He threw 97 pitches, five nights after issuing five walks over 2 2/3 innings in a 5-3 loss to the Nationals.
Selman said the performance Saturday was especially fun as he dueled a close friend in Potomac's Blake Schwartz. The Nats' right-hander threw nine shutout innings, limiting Wilmington to five hits while striking out four.
Selman and Schwartz spent two summers pitching together with the Mankato MoonDogs of the Northwoods League in Minnesota while both were in college. The two have kept in touch since and even went out for dinner during last week's Blue Rocks-Nationals series.
Saturday marked the first time the duo squared off in a game.
"We played together for two summers and were kind of each other's mentors," Selman said. "It was a blast to share that with him."
Saturday's outing was the longest of Selman's career, besting the 7 1/3 innings he tossed on July 13 against Lynchburg. After that outing, Wilmington pitching coach Steve Luebber told MiLB.com that he and the southpaw had begun making some drastic adjustments to Selman's delivery.
Their hope was to improve Selman's command, especially with his fastball. Luebber wanted him to remain taller as he drove to the plate and do a better job finishing over his front leg.
The results have been mixed. Selman was dominant in an Aug. 3 outing against Winston-Salem, striking out seven without issuing a walk over six frames, but he's also walked four or more hitters in five of his past 10 starts.
For the season, Selman has 120 strikeouts and 84 walks over 120 1/3 innings. He's holding opponents to a .200 average and has surrendered only three home runs in 26 starts.
His goal is to cut down on the walks. According to Selman, Saturday's performance was something of a payoff for all the work he and Luebber have done.
"It definitely keeps getting better as I keep working on it," he said. "Tonight was an example of that. I've been working on keeping my weight back longer, being slower in my delivery so I don't fly open as much. That's helped with the command of my fastball and slider."
Those two pitches were Selman's bread and butter Saturday as he sliced through the P-Nats.
The Vanderbilt product struck out the first two batters he faced and was perfect through 4 1/3 innings. With one out in the fifth, Kevin Keyes became the first National to reach, getting aboard on third baseman Daniel Mateo's error.
Keyes took second on a wild pitch but was stranded as Selman struck out Justin Miller and retired Randolph Oduber on a groundout.
The left-hander issued a leadoff walk to Cole Leonida in the sixth but retired the next three batters. After getting Michael Taylor to fly out and Brandon Miller to ground out, Selman capped the seventh by striking out Keyes looking.
Selman again walked the leadoff man in the eighth, but followed that by striking out Oduber, Leonida and Francisco Soriano.
The Austin, Texas native said the start easily was his best since the Royals selected him in the second round of last year's Draft.
"I definitely think so," he said. "It was a great game. I had all my stuff working tonight. There was no timely hitting, but we won in the end, and that's all that matters."
Cutter Dykstra broke up the Blue Rocks' no-hit bid with a leadoff double in the bottom of the ninth, but the Nationals left the bases loaded.
Wilmington broke through in the 10th as Yem Prades singled with one out, raced to third on a base hit by Mateo and scored on Sam Bates' sacrifice fly.