Many things can contribute to a dominant pitching performance -- an unhittable breaking ball, perfect defense, a solid game plan or even the occasional piece of luck.
Usually, though, it starts with the pitcher and catcher being in sync. Everything else just flows from this chemistry. Such was the case Thursday evening.
Lefty Yankees prospect Caleb Smith struck out a career-high 13 batters over six innings to lead the Class A Charleston RiverDogs to a 6-0 win over the Delmarva Shorebirds.
"I think me and Kale [Sumner] are on the same page more often than not," Smith said. "Some catchers might do some things differently that I'm not comfortable with ... but we just click.
"You have to have confidence in your catcher. If you don't, you overthink pitches and you don't execute. When you do have confidence, you throw everything they call. [Sumner] did a great job and I didn't shake him off once. I just threw what he wanted. He called the entire game. For the most part, it was all him."
Smith's 13 strikeouts were the most by a RiverDogs hurler since Charleston became a Yankees affiliate in 2005. Ironically, Smith wasn't looking for a lot of swings-and-misses. In fact, the game plan was exactly the opposite.
"I was trying to pitch to contact, but 0-2 or with two strikes, I was trying to put them away," Smith said. "You don't go out there all the time with expectations of striking everybody out, but I got ahead early. There were guys that would take a lot of strikes early in the count and then swing at strike three in the dirt, but I got a lot of swings-and-misses on my fastball."
Smith (2-1) allowed three hits and a walk, throwing 60 of 89 pitches for strikes at Arthur W. Perdue Stadium in Salisbury, Maryland. The outing lowered his ERA to 0.89, which ranks second in the South Atlantic League only to Delmarva's Hunter Harvey (0.86)
Selected by the Yankees in the 14th round last year, Smith struck out the side in the fifth inning and fanned two batters in each of the other five frames.
He surrendered a single to Trey Mancini in the first and another to Josh Hart in the fifth. Mike Yastrzemski recorded Delmarva's third hit against Smith in the sixth, but the southpaw picked him off first base after throwing over twice previously in the at-bat.
The only other batter to reach against Smith was Mancini, who walked in the fourth, snapping a string of eight consecutive outs.
Even though Smith typically employs a three-pitch mix with his low-90s two-seam fastball, a slider and a changeup, most of the damage Thursday was caused by the heater.
"I didn't use [my slider or changeup] a whole lot," he said. "I tried to go through the lineup once with just my fastball because I didn't want to show them the other pitches before they proved they could hit the fastball first.
"I was keeping the fastball down really well, and right away, I knew that was working for me. Then in the third inning when I started using my off-speed, I knew I had all my pitches working."
Smith had never struck out more than six batters in any of his 17 career outings. He recorded six punchouts four times, most recently against Rome on Saturday. He said he would have to go back to his sophomore year at Sam Houston State to find a similar performance to the one he called the best outing so far in his pro career.
The 6-foot-2 lefty has been lights-out the first three weeks of the season. He allowed one hit over five scoreless innings in his season debut against Greenville on April 8 and he yielded two hits over 5 1/3 innings over the weekend. The only blemish came Apr 13 when he surrendered three runs -- two earned -- on five hits and three walks over four frames.
On Thursday, Jordan Cote struck out three batters over three innings of one-hit ball to earn his first save of the year. It marked the first time this season that the Shorebirds have been shut out.
Delmarva's Mitch Horacek (0-2) surrendered six hits -- five earned -- on 11 hits and a walk while striking out five batters over 5 2/3 innings.