All Frank Lopez needed was some time.
The Rangers prospect recorded a career-high nine strikeouts and gave up two hits over seven innings Saturday night before Class A Hickory blanked Augusta, 3-0, at L.P. Frans Stadium.
Lopez retired the first 15 batters before Ryan Tuntland doubled leading off the sixth inning. He stranded Tuntland at third base by fanning Randy Ortiz and getting John Polonius to ground out. The 20-year-old left-hander faced three batters over the minimum and threw 91 pitches in his seventh appearance and sixth start for the Crawdads.
"Frankie just really focused on keeping the ball down," Hickory pitching coach Oscar Marin said. "It's something we've been harping on him for quite a bit. He's just getting to the point where execution of the pitches is an importance to him, and he's bought into that and he's taken it right into the games."
Lopez fanned eight in his previous start on May 3 against Kannapolis. Using another team's game plan against it has proven to be the key to the high strikeout totals.
"Coming against an aggressive team, you know they're going to come out and be aggressive," Marin said. "One of the things he did well was throw his off-speed, even when behind in counts. Once he did that, he slowed them up, then sped them up at the end.
"The go-to pitch was his changeup and fastball in that order. His changeup is almost like a half-split, it has some dip to it. It comes in like a fastball, then dives down. Our catcher, Kellin Deglan, did a great job of putting the plan together. That's part of the execution that Frankie had, just being on the same page as Deglan. I thought he did a great job of calling that game tonight."
Over his last four South Atlantic League starts, Lopez has allowed two runs over 23 2/3 innings. The Venezuela native has improved his endurance after combining for eight innings in his first two starts of the season.
"Just getting in the groove of things," Marin said. "Coming out of Spring Training, these guys aren't completely stretched out. We've gotten into a routine with him and he feels comfortable with it where he can get stretched out, and he's running with it. Early on, that execution factor wasn't completely there. And now it is."
Overall, Lopez is 3-1, ranks fourth in the league with a 1.38 ERA and has 36 strikeouts over 32 2/3 innings.
Cody Kendall (2-2) earned the win, giving up a hit and striking out three over two innings.
Ronald Guzman, the Rangers' No. 16 prospect, singled home a pair of runs and scored on a wild pitch in the bottom of the eighth to spark the Crawdads.
Matthew Lujan gave up two hits and struck out six over six scoreless innings but did not figure in the decision for the GreenJackets. Daniel Slania (0-1) retired one batter in the eighth and surrendered three runs on two hits and a walk.