A year ago, California League hitters saw more than enough of Daniel Winkler. The Arkansas Travelers know the feeling.
Winkler continued his impressive season on Friday, tossing five one-hit innings and striking out five as Double-A Tulsa blanked Arkansas, 4-0, in the first game of a doubleheader.
Making his second straight start against the Travs and third in his last four outings, the 2013 Cal League Pitcher of the Year turned in his third one-hit effort of the year. He lowered his Texas League-leading ERA to 1.07, a mark that drops to 0.95 against an Arkansas lineup with which he's well-acquainted.
"[Catcher Tom Murphy] and [pitching coach] Darryl Scott do a good job of keeping me on my toes and making sure I mix it up," Winkler said after issuing a pair of walks. "But I tell you what, this Arkansas team is a really good lineup. It's a tough lineup to see, especially in back-to-back starts. They've got a bunch of top prospects in [Kaleb] Cowart and [Alex] Yarbrough. All those guys are really good. It's just mixing up pitches, not going with the same tendencies and trusting 'Murph.'"
Winkler (5-1) went to the mound with a lead after Ryan Casteel's RBI groundout capped the Drillers' two-run first. Tyler Massey added a run-scoring single in the second, and the 24-year-old right-hander set down the first six Travelers.
After Brennan Gowens singled and Vance Albitz walked to start the third, Winkler struck out the side. The Central Florida product has a league-leading 46 strikeouts over 42 innings and is building confidence in a cutter he added to his arsenal over the offseason.
"I feel like I get away with more pitches because they can't sit on my four-seam," Winkler said. "My cutter looks like a four-seam out of the hand and it's got that little bite to it. It's helped me a lot, especially up here. The hitters are better, which is what it comes down to. I think just sticking to my approach, sticking to what I did last year and then adding that cutter, those are some things that have really, really helped me succeed this year."
Winkler retired the side in order in the fifth to finish his seventh start of the season, having thrown 50 of 73 pitches for strikes. In 19 innings against the Travelers, he's allowed just two runs on six hits while striking out 23 and walking four.
"As many times you see them, it can go either way," he said. "Like I said, I try to stick to my game plan and scouting reports of what we have against them. Hitters are good; especially in Double-A, they adjust quickly. You see guys not only adjust game to game but at-bat to at-bat. You read swings and tendencies and how they take pitches. That's a lot on Murph and on me, just reading and recognizing things."
Behind Winkler, Kraig Sitton and Cole White each worked an inning to finish off the Drillers' league-leading fifth shutout.
"To have a bullpen like we do and have a starting staff and a lineup and a defense like we do behind us, it makes it a lot easier on me," Winkler said. "I don't have to worry about those things, like if my defense is going to succeed behind me, and same with the bullpen. Whether I give them five, seven or eight [innings], I know they're going to come out and throw up some zeros for me. That's the great thing about this team. I think we're going to start clicking here soon."
Arkansas starter Kramer Sneed (3-3) allowed three runs -- one earned -- on four hits while walking four and striking out four over five innings.
The Travelers rebounded to take the nightcap, 3-0, behind Drew Rucinski (3-2), who fanned seven and allowed three hits over six innings. Cam Bedrosian worked around two walks with two strikeouts in a hitless seventh to pick up his third save.