Wednesday was Education Day at Class A Kannapolis' CMC Northeast Stadium, and Intimidators starting pitcher James Dykstra had one lesson for the many elementary school children in attendance.
Do your homework.
After watching rotation mate Andrew Mitchell toss five hitless innings Tuesday, Dykstra took a perfect game into the sixth frame Wednesday in Kannapolis' 1-0 win over Hickory. He finished with two hits and one walk allowed to go with six strikeouts in 6 2/3 innings en route to his first Minor League win.
"I was with my pitching coach [Jose Bautista], really studying their hitters yesterday," said the White Sox's 2013 sixth-round pick. "And I noticed they were being really aggressive early in the count, which is great for me and really plays to my strength. I knew if I could go after them early on, get them to swing on and make contact early, I'd do well."
That's exactly what happened for the 23-year-old right-hander, who relied on a heavy sinker and a changeup to keep Crawdads batters off-balance. He retired the first 17 hitters he faced with 11 of those outs coming on the ground. Through five innings, it wasn't much of a secret what was going on.
"I knew I had it just by looking at the scoreboard," said Dykstra (1-1).
Then with two outs in the sixth, Luis Marte hit a 2-2 Dykstra offering through the left side of the Kannapolis infield and into left, becoming Hickory's first baserunner of the morning.
"I thought it had a chance to be picked up, but it just snuck through," the starter said. "It wasn't one of those 'Ahhhh!' moments though. … It was just a really good pitch that he happened to hit in the right spot."
Dykstra struck out Lewis Brinson to end the sixth. He gave up a single to Eduard Pinto to lead off the seventh followed by a sac bunt, a flyout -- the Crawdads' only batted ball in the air off the right-hander -- and a walk before being lifted by manager Pete Rose Jr. He finished with 13 ground outs in his 6 2/3 frames.
The California native showed marked improvement from his first start when he gave up two earned runs on six hits and two walks in five innings in Kannapolis' 3-1 Opening Night loss to Greenville last Thursday. He chalked that up to an improved changeup this time around.
"I was throwing it for strikes a lot more this time," Dykstra said. "I wasn't able to quite control and use it as an out pitch last time and couldn't get it over. This time, it was much more solid."
Then again, Dykstra perhaps wouldn't even have the changeup in his arsenal had it not been for his time at Cal State San Marcos.
The right-hander began his college career as a freshman at junior college with Yavapai (Ariz.) College in 2010 before moving onto LSU the following spring. He pitched only 23 innings out of the bullpen for the Tigers -- posting a 5.48 ERA along the way -- and was told playing time would be at a premium if he returned as a junior. So he moved to Cal State San Marcos, an NAIA school about 30 miles north of San Diego, where he wouldn't have to sit for a year after transferring, which is what would have happened had he transferred to another Division I NCAA school.
There, he teamed up with CSUSM pitching coach Pat Hause, who helped him work on his off-speed stuff, and the results were immediate. The right-hander posted a 2.89 ERA in 14 starts in 2012 and was even better in 2013, when he set single-season school records for wins (nine), ERA (2.02), strikeouts (86) and complete games (four).
The White Sox liked enough of what they saw to grab Dykstra in the sixth round last June. Even now that he's officially in pro ball, it's times like Wednesday that the right-hander still calls back to his lessons from his not-too-distant college days.
"They taught me more to pitch than just throw," Dykstra said. "They allowed me to call my own game because they always said, 'You're going to do it in the pros. You might as well do it now.' And beyond that, they gave me the confidence to throw my changeup whenever. 3-2, 2-2, stuff like that. I don't have to go fastball in a fastball count every time, and it's really helped my game."