With winds gusting up to 30 mph at his back, Taylor Hill had a pretty good idea how Syracuse's matchup against Toledo on Sunday was going to go.
"If they can hit it out in that wind, I'll tip my cap to them," he said. "Their pitchers did the same thing. The only way either team would get beat is if they walked guys."
So the 25-year-old right-hander pounded the strike zone with fastballs and let the Mud Hens hack away into the stiff breeze. The result was the first nine-inning complete game of his pro career and a 1-0 International League victory.
"I just threw a lot of fastballs," Hill said. "I knew the wind was blowing in. It was a weird day pitching-wise. The wind was blowing in and it was hard to get a grip on a lot of my off-speed pitches. They were swinging early and, fortunately, hitting right at guys."
Hill (4-1) allowed three hits, all in first three innings. He retired 17 straight Mud Hens, a streak that ended on a Syracuse error, a threw 102 pitches.
Toledo's Daniel Fields opened the game with a ground-ball single but was quickly erased on a double play. Hill allowed two more singles in the third, a one-out grounder by Brandon Douglas and a two-out liner by Fields. The 25-year-old used his leather to escape the jam -- nothing new for the 2013 Rawlings Minor League Gold Glove Winner -- by snagging Hernan Perez's comebacker for the third out.
Perez's liner was the first of 17 consecutive outs recorded by Hill, who had a four-pitch fourth inning. Fields snapped the streak in the ninth, chopping a grounder up the middle that was misplayed by shortstop Emmanuel Burriss for an error.
Working with a man on for the first time since the third inning, Hill induced a fielder's choice from Perez before walking Jordan Lennerton. With two on and two out, he struck out Mike Hessman on a fastball.
"My main thing going out there is to see the least amount of time I can stay on the mound," Hill said. "Every pitcher's goal is to go out and throw a complete game. It's something you want to do, but it doesn't always work out."
The Vanderbilt product was a 2011 sixth-round selection and has climbed steadily through the Nationals system. He's shown stellar control this season, which is not a new trend. He entered Sunday averaging 1.7 walks per nine innings over his Minor League career, including 1.2 per nine through his first five starts this year.
Where Hill has taken a step forward is his ability to strike hitters out. He entered the day with 8.5 strikeouts per nine innings this season after averaging 5.7 last year across three Minor League levels.
The Tennessee native credited the extra swings and misses to improved command, specifically of his off-speed pitches. He throws a changeup, slider and curve, and while he estimated he threw fewer than 15 off-speed pitches against Toledo, those offerings have been the key to his early success.
"Being able to throw my off-speed pitches for strikes when I need to," Hill said. "I wasn't able to do that in the past as frequently as I would've liked. Our pitching coach here, Paul Menhart, as well as the guys in Spring Training, we've been working on different stuff. Just being able to throw that off-speed for strikes, get that in the hitters' minds, then throw the fastball where I want it when they're not looking for it."
Jhonatan Solano snapped a scoreless deadlock in the seventh, when he greeted reliever Mike Belfiore (1-2) with his fourth homer of the season and third in seven games.