For all the bullpen sessions and extra work Edgar De La Rosa has put in to improve his two-seam grip this year, the pitch of choice seemed to vanish by the second inning on Tuesday night.
"I couldn't control it that inning," De La Rosa said. "I'd throw my two-seamer away, but the changeup seemed to be better."
The Tigers prospect walked two and gave up a single in the second, but he's learned how to adjust and respond. A pickoff and a double play saved the start, and De La Rosa was back in it.
"The next inning, I threw it again," he said, "and it was really comfortable."
De La Rosa turned in his third straight quality start and finally has a win to show for it, allowing one hit over seven innings Tuesday night in Class A Advanced Lakeland's 7-0 blanking of Daytona.
The 23-year-old right-hander survived his only shaky inning in the second, struck out eight, walked three and won for the first time since Aug. 24, 2013 with Class A West Michigan.
"I feel happy, I'm working every day to win every start, so that's big," he said.
De La Rosa (1-3) worked a 1-2-3 third, struck out Bijan Rademacher to end the fourth, struck out the side again in the fifth and fanned two more in the sixth. He got a second double play in the seventh after issuing a leadoff walk to Gioskar Amaya.
The gem came 10 days after the native of the Dominican Republic held Clearwater to one hit and four walks over eight innings but came away without a decision. De La Rosa followed that start with another solid effort on Thursday, when he struck out eight and allowed two runs over five innings against Tampa.
"When I threw eight innings, the reliever [Guido Knudson], he didn't feel comfortable on the mound," De La Rosa said. "He told me he was sorry."
Knudson got a second chance on Tuesday when he replaced De La Rosa in the eighth and struck out two over the final two frames.
"I felt good, I felt comfortable," De La Rosa said. "I've been working the last week with [pitching coach] Mike [Maroth] with my chanegeup, and tonight everything was OK, my arm felt good. I'm working on my two-seamer, so I threw a lot of fastballs and chaneups today, especially with a lot of lefties for Daytona. I felt comfortable."
De La Rosa's string of solid starts marks a noticeable improvement from a rocky 2013 campaign in the Midwest League, where he went 8-6 with a 5.61 ERA in 25 games. A year earlier, he led the New York-Penn League in balks and errors among pitchers, and in 2010, he led the Dominican Summer League in losses.
De La Rosa endured a little more bad luck Tuesday when rain delayed the start of the game for 51 minutes.
"I was ready to start at 6:30, but the people working the field told me to stop," he said. "It's a little bit hard, you've gotten ready and you have to stop, but I don't sit down, I went to the training room and the trainer put something on my arm."
Once the weather cleared at Joker Marchant Stadium, De La Rosa pitched a perfect first and watched his offense take over. Lakeland grabbed the lead without a hit in the bottom of the inning as Chad Wright, Dixon Machado and Lance Durham walked before Cubs starter Ben Wells hit Connor Harrell with a pitch.
The Flying Tigers had a more conventional inning in the second, when Machado knocked home Tyler Hanover with a fielder's choice and Durham followed with an RBI single. Durham homered in the fourth and Lakeland tacked on three insurance runs in the sixth and seventh.
"I just work hard, try to throw the ball down [in the zone]," De La Rosa said. "My two-seamer and changeups are my best, and I felt comfortable tonight."