It's pretty convenient for left-hander Ian McKinney that the top edict for young pitchers in the Cardinals system is fastball command. He's considered that a personal strength for years.
The 2013 fifth-round pick made his second start of the season Saturday and shined in his Johnson City debut, showcasing that fastball control while limiting Bluefield to two hits over seven innings in a 3-0 victory.
For McKinney (1-0), the win was just his second as a pro. The start was his second this season -- his first came earlier in the week with Class A Short Season State College, when he allowed two runs on four hits over five innings. He struck out five and walked one in that game.
The 19-year-old was even more effective Saturday, striking out five without issuing a walk. He threw 90 pitches, estimating roughly 65 of them were fastballs along with 11 changeups and the rest curves.
"I think the location of the fastball was working well today," McKinney said. "That and my changeup was my No. 2 ... pitch today. It was working good down in the zone, had good life on it. I got a lot of hitters out in front of it, was getting swings and misses with it."
The fastball-changeup combo has been McKinney's bread and butter since his days at William R. Boone High School in Orlando, Florida. He expressed confidence in both pitches, especially in his ability to spot up the heater.
"I think I've been able to locate the fastball, and that's what I pride myself on," he said. "I can throw three straight curves and have them all be balls, and I have the confidence to come back with a fastball and get an out."
McKinney (1-0) retired his first six batters Saturday. In the third inning, left fielder Trent Miller hit a leadoff single and stole second but was stranded as McKinney got a groundout, flyout and strikeout. One batter reached in the fourth on an error, but McKinney retired six straight over the fifth and sixth innings.
In the seventh, he allowed a one-out single to first baseman Rowdy Telez but got three fly balls to center fielder Carlos Torres to complete his gem.
McKinney said he rode his fastball and changeup hard Saturday but also was pleased with what he saw from his curve.
The breaking ball has been a work-in-progress since he was drafted. The southpaw said he had a "reawakening" with the pitch earlier in the week, ditching what had become a slider in favor of a vertical, 12-to-6 offering.
"I didn't think I had a good curve when I got to the pro level," he said. "[Former Cardinals pitching instructor] Brent Strom helped me out a little. Since he left, [pitching coordinator] Tim Leveque has been helping me a lot with it.
"I think the more I threw it, the harder I thought it should be, which isn't how a curve should be; that's more of a slider. He brought me back on track with how I should be throwing the curve."
The offering is still clearly McKinney's third pitch, but its development is important for his long-term goal of becoming a Major League starter.
That, along with continuing to improve his already strong fastball command, is the main goal for the left-hander, who said he wasn't sure if he'd be with Johnson City the rest of the year or if he'd head back to State College at some point.
Regardless of where he's throwing, he has a good idea of what he wants to accomplish.
"Everyone wants to be healthy the whole year, no injuries," he said. "A long-term goal is to get back to State College. As for right now, I just want to keep command of my fastballs and get the curve over for strikes, command the curve and throw it where I want to throw it."