As a child, Jaron Long enjoyed nothing more than spending a lazy afternoon watching batting practice at a ballpark. Any ballpark.
The size of the stadium didn't matter, nor did the names on the jerseys. For Long, it was all about watching his heroes swing the bat. Of course, it's a little more fun when your father is one of the players taking those hacks.
Now, all those hours watching games from above the dugout or behind home plate are paying off.
Long recorded a career-high nine strikeouts and pitched a two-hitter for his first complete game as a pro on Tuesday, helping Class A Charleston record a 3-0 blanking that finished off a doubleheader sweep of visiting Greenville.
"I spent every summer since I was about 7 years old at a ballpark, either at Minor League games in Wichita, Kansas, or in The Bronx with the Yankees," said Long, the son of Yankees hitting coach Kevin Long.
"I really enjoyed batting practice, reading swings and watching different players. I would try to find holes in their swings and think of ways to get them out."
Against the Red Sox's South Atlantic League affiliate, Long (3-1) capitalized on every hole he found in spinning the first shutout of his career. The 22-year-old right-hander threw 63 of 92 pitches for strikes and lowered his ERA to 1.80, which ranks sixth on the circuit. He found success with his off-speed pitches, particularly a changeup that he used as an out pitch.
"I was throwing all of my pitches for strikes," Long said. "A sinking fastball, a cutter, a curve and a changeup. Usually, the changeup is what I go with. I didn't start throwing a curveball until I was about 16 or so. My parents told me, 'Throw changeups, throw changeups, protect your arm.'"
The seven innings tied a career high, set on May 12 against Savannah in which he allowed three hits and recorded five punchouts.
Long made his first professional start on May 1 against Augusta after 11 relief appearances. In four career starts, he's yet to allow a run while giving up 12 hits and four walks with 23 strikeouts over 24 2/3 innings.
Dating back to a relief appearance against Rome on May 7, the Ohio State product has tossed 22 2/3 consecutive scoreless frames. That's tops among active RiverDogs and ranks 10th in team history. He's six innings from tying Lance Pendleton's 2008 record.
"[Pitching in relief] was really new to me," said Long, who signed with the Yankees as a non-drafted free agent last Aug. 1. "I had never done it in high school or summer ball or in college. I'm more comfortable starting and I'm trying to take advantage of any starts the Yankees give me, but I'm willing to take any role the Yankees put me in.
"[As a starter], you have the ability to set the tone and develop your pitches and make sequences with different hitters. In long relief, you can come in with runners on base. I've been doing a lot of work with pitching coach Carlos Chantres. It's a big confidence-booster to go out there early in my career and have some success, but I want to build on it and stay humble."
On Tuesday, Long retired his first six batters before Aneudis Peralta beat out an infield single leading off the third.
Only three other Greenville hitters got on base against the Arizona native. Peralta reached on a wild third strike in the fifth and Jordan Weems followed with a walk, but Long struck out Zach Kapstein for his fourth whiff of the inning. He said he's never had a four-strikeout inning as a pro or in more than 200 frames in college.
Manuel Margot singled to left field with two outs in the seventh, but the Drive were unable to bring the potential tying run to the plate.
Three days removed from a record-tying four-homer game, Mike Ford accounted for all three of the RiverDogs' hits. He doubled, drove in two runs and raised his average to .319.
Greenville starter Myles Smith (1-3) allowed three runs on two hits and five walks with one strikeout in four innings.
The RiverDogs won the opener, 4-2.