If Tyler Jay misses his days as a reliever, he isn't showing it. And by the looks of it, he won't be going back to the bullpen anytime soon.
Making his ninth Minor League start, the Twins' third-ranked prospect continued to impress in his new role, recording a career-high 11 strikeouts and giving up two hits over eight innings Tuesday as Class A Advanced Fort Myers beat visiting St. Lucie, 4-0.
Jay (4-4) faced two batters over the minimum and allowed only two baserunners after Champ Stuart reached on a bunt single leading off the game. He retired the 16 of the last 17 batters he faced in his longest outing as a pro.
"Starting is really fun, but to be honest, it's hard to choose," Jay said. "I've been lucky to experience the best of both worlds. The adrenaline rush you get as a closer is awesome, but when you're out there starting and get to work through so many different scenarios ... I'm falling in love with it more and more every day. I'm definitely getting used to it."
The 2015 first-round pick registered a 1.08 ERA in 30 appearances, including two starts, during his final season at the University of Illinois. Jay appeared exclusively in relief for Fort Myers last summer, striking out 22 over 18 1/3 innings while compiling a 3.93 ERA. Now a fixture in the Miracle rotation, the 22-year-old left-hander has allowed more than three runs just once in nine starts.
"I'm not completely acclimated to the role yet," Jay said, "but I'm definitely getting a better feel for things with each start that I make. The biggest thing is learning how to pitch with the big picture in mind. I have to be much more focused on pitching to contact and being aware of my game plan. In the 'pen, you can get away a little more with just letting it loose."
Although Jay may not be able to throw with as much reckless abandon as he did as a reliever, he found enough deception and power to establish a career high in strikeouts for the second straight start. He struck out the side in the fifth and ended his outing by fanning a pair, giving him 19 punchouts in his last 13 innings.
"What's ironic is that was probably the worst I've ever warmed up before a game," he said. "I had an extra day off and I was a little amped up. When that happens, my bullpens tend to be a little wild, but everything returned to normal when I got out there. Even my changeup, which I'm still working on because I never threw it as a reliever, was working well for me. Everything ended up being on point. I couldn't have asked for anything better."
Jay moved into a tie for fourth in the Florida State League with 55 strikeouts while dropping his ERA to 2.44. In his last five starts, MLB.com's No. 55 overall prospect has yielded three runs on 20 hits over 32 1/3 innings.
Yorman Landa worked around a walk in the ninth to complete Fort Myers' seventh shutout of the season.
Twins No. 16 prospect Engelb Vielma had two hits and a walk, stole a base and scored a run for the Miracle, while Edgar Corcino delivered a two-run triple in a three-run first.
St. Lucie starter Josh Prevost (3-6) was reached for three runs on eight hits and two walks while fanning two in 6 1/3 innings.