Ideally, a pitching prospect learns a great deal from his worst start. Jason Hursh realized, however, that it's hard to learn from a bad start when the biggest problem was bad luck.
"It was kind of crazy because even though the last outing didn't go so well," he said, "whenever I got a guy on first tonight, I felt like I could go to the sinker to get a double-play ball. Things just broke a bit better for me."
One start after giving up six runs on nine hits without making it out of the fifth inning, the Braves' third-ranked prospect tossed a four-hitter Friday as Double-A Mississippi blanked visiting Pensacola, 7-0, in the first game of a doubleheader.
"We talked about the last outing, in Chattanooga, and he wanted to know what was different between then and tonight," M-Braves pitching coach Dennis Lewallyn said. "He said, 'I felt like I threw a lot better tonight.' I said, 'You really didn't.'
"The difference is, in Chattanooga, there were four or five extra ground balls that found holes. Tonight, he got ground balls right at people and got double plays. That's the nature of the beast sometimes. He had basically the same stuff, but tonight he ended up with a seven-inning shutout."
Lewallyn, a veteran of eight Major League seasons, knew the biggest challenge as Hursh tried to rebound from that outing would be mental.
"I think it is for any young pitcher. He came to the dugout in Chattanooga and said 'What am I doing wrong?' I said, 'Nothing.' That's the way the game is," Lewallyn recalled. "We always remember the things that go wrong in the game and we tend to forget those line drives that got right to guys.
"I told him, 'You don't change anything about the way you're pitching. Go out there and mix your pitches and take your chances.' He went out and threw 83 pitches and got through seven innings. It was fun to watch."
Hursh (4-4) retired his first eight batters.
"He had a really good two-seam fastball tonight, and that helped him get 10 ground-ball outs" Lewallyn said. "He complemented it with mixture of a good curveball and an occasional changeup to keep them honest, but it was mostly attacking the strike zone with a good two-seam fastball."
The 22-year-old right-hander had opposing starter and fourth-ranked Reds prospect Michael Lorenzen in an 0-2 hole, then missed with a pair of curveballs with two outs in the third.
"[Hursh] pitched himself into a situation where he knew -- and everybody in the ballpark knew -- he had to throw his best fastball over the plate," Lewallyn said. "And Lorenzen is a good athlete, a first-round pick, and he always has been a good athlete. Part of being a good athlete is being able to swing the bat a little bit, and he can."
Lorenzon lined a double to right field, but Hursh got a grounder to end the inning.
He was in trouble again in the fourth, which started with a walk that the M-Braves thought should've been a strikeout.
"He actually had the hitter struck out on a 2-2 fastball and the catcher threw the ball around to the infield," Lewallyn said. "The umpire said, 'Wait a minute.'"
The pitch was called a ball and Hursh missed with his next offering.
"I knew I made a good pitch [for ball three]," he said. "It's probably a strike inside nine out of 10 times, but you don't get them all. But I didn't let it bother me, and then I missed up just a little bit. I wasn't missing bad."
Hursh surrendered a single to Travis Mattair but went back to his two-seamer to get out of trouble.
"I tried to to focus down more, to live down in the zone," he said. "Usually, if I leave the ball up -- if any pitcher leaves the ball up -- these hitters get a good piece of the bat on it. I was hoping to get a ground ball."
He got two grounders, the second of which was an inning-ending double play. He also benefited from double plays in the fifth and sixth.
"Of course, that's a great feeling," the Oklahoma State product said. "Going through pro ball, I'm learning how much it's part of my game. Whenever there's a guy on first, I try not to do too much. I know I have that two-seamer down, or even the changeup, and I'm one pitch away from a double play."
Hursh worked around a single in the seventh to complete the shutout.
"It was a lot better feeling," he said. "The last outing was definitely my worst of the year, but the first four innings of it felt great. It was just that one inning. I knew if I could take that same stuff into the next outing, I could have a good, long outing and keep the team in the game. Hopefully, it's the first of many to come."