In his 32nd professional game, Joe Gunkel did something new.
The Red Sox prospect has been working on different grips for a slider. On Saturday night, he threw it for the first time.
The new grip fit comfortably into his repertoire as Gunkel allowed one hit over six scoreless innings to help Class A Greenville top Hagerstown, 3-1, at Municipal Stadium.
"I felt good. I had good life to my fastball, pretty good feel for all my pitches," he said. "Fastball, changeup were working. I've been working on a new slider and it's starting to come around."
Holding the Suns to three baserunners, the 22-year-old right-hander said the key to his success was getting ahead of hitters. Gunkel (3-0) fanned six batters and has recorded at least five strikeouts in all five of his starts this season.
Just about the only time the 2013 18th-round Draft pick ran into trouble was in the second inning when he allowed a leadoff double to Spencer Kieboom, threw a wild pitch and walked John Wooten.
"I was just throwing behind hitters and giving them pitches they were able to hit, but I was pretty efficient when hitters were on," he said. "It was a one-run game at that point; if a run scores, it's tied. I needed to get out of there to keep my team's lead."
Gunkel struck out James Yezzo and escaped trouble when Wooten was caught stealing second. He allowed one baserunner thereafter as Rafael Bautista reached on an error by second baseman Wendell Rijo -- the Red Sox's 14th-ranked prospect -- in the third.
The Florida native made 15 relief outings across the Gulf Coast and New York-Penn leagues last summer and began this season with 12 appearances out of the bullpen. He joined the Drive rotation on May 23 and is 2-0 with a 2.96 ERA in five starts.
"[The transition is] going well; I had started in my college career," the West Chester University product said. "It's just an increase in innings and when I come in. Hopefully, they keep giving me starts, [but] it's all the same game when you get there, just have to execute your pitches and get ahead of hitters."
While Gunkel kept Hagerstown off-balance, Greenville had to face Nationals top prospect Lucas Giolito (2-1), who allowed one run on two hits while striking out three over five frames.
"He threw really well. He's [a] great, young talent, throws the ball hard, has great off-speed pitches," Gunkel said of MLB.com's No. 36 overall prospect. "But at end of the day, you're not looking at matchups between pitchers, you're looking at the matchups with hitters. I was just going up there and throwing my pitches."
Mario Alcantara relieved in the seventh and ran into trouble, issuing a pair of walks and plunking Wooten to load the bases. Yezzo got the Suns on the board with a single, but Taylor Grover worked around two hits over the final 2 1/3 innings for his first South Atlantic League save.
Carlos Asuaje gave Gunkel an early lead with a solo homer in the second and the Drive padded it in the sixth as Jantzen Witte lifted a sacrifice fly and Manuel Margot delivered an RBI single.