Cody Bolton didn't expect to be at the Class A Advanced level right now, but he's showing he belongs.
Pittsburgh's No. 27 prospect allowed three hits and struck out seven over a season-high seven innings as Class A Advanced Bradenton shut out Clearwater, 1-0, at Spectrum Field. He improved to 5-0 while reducing his ERA to 0.77
"I thought I was going to be going down to [Class A] Greensboro, sending me back to where I left last season," Bolton said. "Then I came out throwing really well in Spring Training and got sent to Bradenton, which was awesome, especially being able to dominate so far."
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Dominate indeed. After Phillies No. 18 prospect Nick Maton doubled down the right-field line to begin the fifth inning, the right-hander beared down and retired the final nine batters he faced. His seven strikeouts were one short of his season high, as Bolton whiffed eight Dunedin batters on April 13, and two behind the professional best he set with Greensboro against Hickory on July 13, 2018.
"I'm trying to give it all that I've got and it is working out so far," he said.
Relying on both a four-seam and two-seam fastball, the 2017 sixth-round pick has used a mixture of a slider/cutter to keep hitters at bay.
"They are the same pitch," he said. "Sometimes it gets up to 90 mph and sometimes down to 86 mph, just depending on how hard I grip it and throw it."
Bolton's five wins stand tied with Palm Beach's Johan Oviedo atop the Florida State League while his 0.77 ERA is first among active league pitchers. His 36 strikeouts in 35 innings currently ranks him third on the circuit. In six appearances, the 6-foot-3 hurler has held opponents to a .160 average and allowed only three earned runs.
The hot start might be even more impressive considering Bolton is coming off an forearm injury that forced him to shut down for the season last July. The 20-year-old used the time off wisely.
"I did a bunch of arm-care stuff and keeping the strength built up in my elbow and forearm," Bolton said. "It was pretty easy getting back to where I was last year. I definitely think that doing all of that stuff during the offseason, I got a lot stronger than I was last year."
For the first five innings, Threshers lefty Damon Jones was matching him zero for zero on the board.
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"It's always fun going out there when both sides are pitching well. It's fun having that competition," Bolton said.
The California native takes a fearless attitude to the hill.
"Going out on the mound, knowing what I can do and being able to execute what I've been taught and learned, it boosts the confidence," he said.
Pirates No. 10 prospect Luis Escobar scattered two hits over two innings to pick up his third save of the season.
MLB.com's No. 82 overall prospect Travis Swaggerty provided the lone run of the night, singling in Deon Stafford in the sixth.