Preston Gainey knows sometimes his desire to be perfect can hurt his pitching line. But Thursday, he relaxed and delivered an impeccable outing.
The right-handed Milwaukee prospect struck out a career-high 12 while allowing three hits and four walks over seven scoreless frames en route to Class A Wisconsin's 6-1 win at Peoria.
"I think it was just mixing my pitches. A lot of times I can get a little fastball-happy, so tonight I made sure to throw my off-speed pitches for strikes," Gainey said. "I felt pretty good, [catcher Rafael] Neda and I were on the same page. … I established my fastball early in the game and relaxed, just trusted his calls."
The 23-year-old gave up two of his hits coming in the first inning. After getting two quick outs, he allowed back-to-back singles to 11th-ranked Cardinals prospect Carson Kelly and Ronald Castillo. With Kelly on third, Gainey's 1-2 pitch to St. Louis' No. 17 prospect Rowan Wick got past Neda.
"I threw a changeup and it bounced. Rafael Neda ran back and I think Carson Kelly hesitated at third before coming home. Neda flipped to me and I tagged Kelly," Gainey said. "That out was pretty crucial. A lot of times when I get into trouble, it's when I come out in the first inning and I try to be too perfect."
While every pitcher strives for perfection, that sentiment comes with its own set of problems for the 2012 11th-round pick.
"It can be the best thing for me or it can be the worst thing for me," he admitted. "I can put unnecessary pressure on myself. It's kind of one of those things. Some nights I come out relaxed and other nights I put pressure on myself. We've been working a lot of pitch selection, just trusting myself and not trying to be too fine or perfect."
Aside from a walk, the Florida native was perfect for the next three innings until Juan Herrera singled in the fifth. The U.S. Naval Academy product cruised through the next frame, before Gainey took the mound in the seventh knowing that it could be his last.
"I told myself right before I went out on the mound, 'Put your foot on the gas and don't let them back in this game,'" he said. "I tried not to let them see the fastball too much, but I was able to throw it and keep guys off balance all night."
Gainey struck out the side in his final frame to complete his first scoreless start since his season debut.
"It feels really good. Pitching is one of those things that some nights go your way and some nights don't. It feels good that I was able to keep my team in the game and keep the runners from crossing the plate," he said. "[Left fielder] Omar Garcia made a great play in the third, a diving play that ended the inning. I was just able to capitalize on those opportunities. It was definitely a fun game."
Gainey has gone 4-7 with a 4.07 ERA over 20 starts with Wisconsin. While his record mirrors that of his Midwest League stint last season, his ERA -- 5.11 in 2013 -- and abilities have improved since he started in Class A ball.
"I definitely have developed a lot. Last year for starters, I didn't really have a changeup and I didn't have confidence with that," he said. "I worked really hard this offseason to develop a changeup and get my mechanics to where they need to be. I had a few [tough starts], but for the most part, I worked really hard in the offseason and I think it shows."
David Denson, Angel Ortega and Neda drove in runs in the victory.