For as good as he's been, Bakersfield right-hander Ben Lively thinks he has another gear he hasn't hit yet.
"I feel more comfortable with everything [this year]," Lively said. "The only thing that's not the same is I'm throwing slower. But I know the velocity will come."
Lively hasn't needed the extra heat to stay red-hot in the California League, a trend that continued Wednesday night. The Reds' No. 13 prospect delivered yet another gem, this time against Inland Empire. The 22-year-old scattered four hits and a walk while striking out six over seven scoreless innings in a 4-3 Class A Advanced win.
Kyle Waldrop won the game for the Blaze in the 10th inning, grounding a single to right field that scored Ryan Wright with the walk-off winner.
Lively (6-0) now leads the California League with a 0.63 ERA and is second in all of baseball with a 54-to-3 strikeout-to-walk ratio, trailing only Triple-A Buffalo's Liam Hendriks.
He said Wednesday he's accomplished all this without his best fastball. That's partly intentional, though, as the right-hander said he's sacrificed some velocity for better fastball command. The righty, who has worked mostly 89-94 mph this year, does thinks he has a few more ticks in his arm that will come later in the season.
"It's still the beginning of the year, still early," the 22-year-old Central Florida product said. "I'm not worried about it right now."
Lively allowed a one-out single to No. 6 Angels prospect Jose Rondon in the first inning, but then struck out Wade Hinkle and induced a flyout from Dennis Raben to end the first. He retired the next six batters he faced before allowing a second single to Rondon to lead off the fourth. Rondon was caught stealing during the next at-bat, and Lively allowed just one more base-runner until the seventh.
The right-hander's final frame was his rockiest, as he allowed consecutive singles to Hinkle and Raben to begin the frame. Lively evaded damage, though, by inducing a ground-ball double play from Cal Towey and getting another grounder from Zach Wright.
Lively amassed eight groundouts in total, perhaps the biggest difference between this outing and the rest of the gems he's tossed this season -- he entered with a 0.81 groundout-to-fly out ratio.
The 66ers lineup was packed with five left-handed hitters, and Lively said he was able to handle those hitters primarily with his fastball, sprinkling in just a handful of changeups. Inland Empire's right-handed hitters got a more mixed diet -- seeing fastballs, curves and sliders in different parts of the strike zone.
Bakersfield led, 1-0, when Lively exited after seven innings, but allowed a run in the eighth and a three-run jack by Mark Shannon in the ninth.
The Blaze held the top of the 66ers lineup off the scoreboard in the top of the 10th. In the bottom of the frame, Wright and Jesse Winker hit back-to-back one-out singles. After a popup by Seth Mejias-Brean, Waldrop pulled his RBI single to right to stretch Bakersfield's record to 26-8.
Waldrop, a 22-year-old outfielder repeating the California League, has been much more successful in his second stint out West, hitting .385 with 12 doubles and a .997 OPS.
"It's been fun watching him," Lively said. "He gets big hits at clutch times. It's fun to watch him with people on base. You just know he will get a big hit when you need one."