It turns out that Michael King isn't just a cold-weather pitcher.
That was the case Monday night, at least, when the right-hander turned in a stellar performance in a 4-1 win over Delmarva. He became the first Greensboro starter to go five innings and the first to pick up a victory.
The game-time temperature was 72 degrees, the warmest of the five games this season. King, a native of Rochester, N.Y., who went to Boston College, had pitched an inning in last Thursday's opener, when the thermometer had settled into the 40s.
"That's my favorite temperature to pitch in," King said. "I want hitters to be as cold as possible. I was a little disappointed when it turned warmer."
There was nothing disappointing about his first start, however. King began the game by striking out the side in the first inning and went on to record nine strikeouts in his five innings of work. He gave up two hits and a walk but never allowed a runner to reach second base.
Because starters are on a pitch count of around 75 to 80 early in the season, they have to be efficient. King threw 71 pitches, 46 for strikes. He said he has a pre-game routine in the bullpen where he attacks the first hitter of the game. He carried that over by striking out Ryan McKenna and went from there, gaining a strong rapport with catcher Alex Jones.
"Jonesy and I had a good game plan," King said. "I threw mostly two-seam fastballs, with a few sliders and changeups. When he wanted me to come inside, I trusted him and we pounded it inside. I was able work ahead in the count all night, and that makes it a lot easier."
After a fine junior season at BC, where he went 8-4, King was drafted in the 12th round by the Marlins. He pitched in 15 games, all but one in relief, but he prefers to start and is getting that chance this season.
"He had that two-seamer working and they were swinging over the top of it," Jones said. "He executed the game plan great. I caught him at Batavia last year and once he gets in a groove, look out."
Manager Todd Pratt said King set the tone early with his power sinker.
"He had good action and stayed with it," Pratt said.
Pitching coach Mark DiFelice said the key was keeping the ball down. This was the first game the Hoppers pitchers didn't allow a home run.
Ben Meyer followed King with three innings and four more strikeouts. He was shaky in the sixth inning, when he was touched for three singles that scored a run. But he regrouped for strong innings in the seventh and eighth.
"He had trouble with his fastball command," DiFelice said. "We talked about it between innings and he said 'I'll find it.' And he did."
Kyle Keller pitched the ninth and retired the side in order, striking out the final hitter to bring the total to 14 for the night. He picked up his second save of the young season.
The offense did enough to ensure the win. There were seven hits by seven different players, including a clutch pinch-hit single by Colby Lusignan. That drove in one of two runs the Hoppers scored in the seventh inning as they pushed the lead from a tight 2-1 to a more manageable 4-1.
The Hoppers are now 4-1 to start the season and play the second game of the Delmarva series Tuesday night. They're back to the top of the rotation, with Jordan Holloway scheduled to start.
NOTES: Branden Berry accounted for one run with his first homer of the season and Corey Bird had an RBI double to score Rony Cabrera, who had hit a ground rule double … The Hoppers drew eight walks and stole three bases, two by Garvis Lara and one by Bird.
This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.