Miguel Almonte took a big step forward in reclaiming his season on Wednesday.
The Royals' No. 5 prospect struck out seven and gave up five hits over a season-high 6 1/3 innings, pitching Class A Advanced Wilmington past Carolina, 3-0.
Almonte (3-2) exited in the seventh after allowing a one-out double to Anthony Gallas, throwing 90 pitches in his 10th start for the Blue Rocks. He did not walk a batter, and Gallas was the only Mudcat to reach second base against him.
"We've been trying for a while to get him to use his fastball more and not be so off-speed reliant," Wilmington pitching coach Steve Luebber said. "He began the game much better than he has done recently, got the ball away from right-handers better than he has for the most part. He used the fastball, established it right away and then gradually started to mix in his off-speed pitches as he went along. Hopefully, it's a significant step if he recognizes it."
Almonte brought a 5.33 ERA and .251 batting average gainst into his start at Five County Stadium. Luebber said he feels like the 21-year-old right-hander got a glimpse of what could happen if he continues to take the steps outlined for him.
"Just the fact that it worked for him the way it's supposed to," the coach added. "He's had some rough games where he showed really good stuff but gave up some runs because of fastball location. Tonight, he was much better with it."
In his previous two starts, Almonte surrendered seven runs on 14 hits over 11 innings.
"It was all about the fastball location," said Luebber, who pitched for three teams in five-year big league career. "Before, when he gave up all the hits, they were almost all fastballs on the inner half to righties, something he was doing intentionally and something he was doing mechanically. So our emphasis has changed and that's why his fastball command was better.
"His fastball has some movement, but it doesn't have the kind of movement where it sinks. So if he doesn't get the ball away, it's going to stay on the barrel too much."
Wednesday marked the first time Almonte worked into the seventh inning since May 13, 2013 for Class A Lexington.
"We expect that from him and most all of our guys," Luebber said. "We hope the combination of that and seeing how he did it sticks with him. He did it with a decent amount of pitches, and that's a good number for getting into that inning."
Almonte ranks second in the Carolina League with 57 strikeouts over 55 1/3 innings, having fanned seven in four straight starts.
Kyle Bartsch relieved Almonte and struck out two over 1 2/3 hitless innings before Mark Peterson pitched a 1-2-3 ninth for his 10th save.
Kenny Diekroeger drove in a run and scored a run, while Cody Stubbs was 2-for-4 with a double and a run scored for the Blue Rocks. Hunter Dozier, the Royals' sixth-ranked prospect, left after being hit by a pitch in the third, although X-rays were negative.
Gallas had two of the five hits for the Mudcats, who've been shut out for 26 2/3 consecutive innings.