With two rough starts to open the season, Lewis Thorpe felt some stress on his shoulders going into his third outing. But after matching a career high in strikeouts, he felt a little more at ease. And when he reached that total again just one start later, the tension disappeared almost completely.
"It feels good," he said. "To do what I've done the past two starts, staying positive and making adjustments, it's just an awesome feeling."
The eighth-ranked Twins prospect fanned 12 for the second straight start, allowing one run on three hits over a career-high eight innings, as Triple-A Rochester coasted to an 8-1 victory over Scranton/Wilkes-Barre on Tuesday night at Frontier Field. It marked the first time in his professional career that he's recorded two double-digit strikeout performances in the same season.
Video: Red Wings starter Lewis Thorpe notches 12th K
Working mostly with a fastball-breaking ball combination, Thorpe felt in control for most of the outing as he pounded the zone and attacked an aggressive RailRiders lineup with 20 first-pitch strikes.
"Coming into my last start against Syracuse, we did the same thing," Thorpe said. "We played the fastball and then the curveball off the fastball and then the slider to get ahead. Everything was going my way and it was just one of those nights.
"It was in the fourth inning and it felt like every count I got to was either 0-2, 1-2 or they're swinging early and getting early outs. You pepper them in until they make an adjustment and once they do you change things up, change the game plan a little. But that didn't happen tonight -- we just stuck with our game plan and things worked out well."
Tuesday's effort was in stark contrast to his first two starts of the year as Thorpe (1-2) surrendered 15 earned runs over 8 2/3 innings against Lehigh Valley. He bounced back last Wednesday when he limited Syracuse to two runs on four hits over 5 2/3 frames. Having the bounce-back outing against the Mets relieved some of the pressure, which partly played into the success against Scranton/Wilkes-Barre.
Pitching coach Stu Cliburn and bullpen coach Mike McCarthy advised the left-hander to get back to pitching to his strengths rather than "pitching to paper" and just adhering to scouting reports verbatim. In the small sample, the coaches' advice has paid dividends.
"You know, your mind starts running about things, 'Like am I good enough to be here?'" Thorpe said. "But you've gotta think positive out of it and work on some things in the bullpen. Eventually, things will start to go your way. Just to have these last two outings, it takes the stress off your shoulders."
Against the RailRiders, the southpaw threw 71 of 95 pitches for strikes while facing three batters over the minimum. Things didn't get off to an ideal start, however, as Gosuke Katoh drilled a solo homer to left field with two outs in the first.
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After the long ball, Thorpe set down 18 in a row. He did not have to pitch with a runner on base until Ryan McBroom doubled with two outs in the seventh. Fittingly, the 23-year-old Australian ended the frame by punching out Ryan Lavarnway.
In the midst of his dominant stretch, Thorpe said he felt locked in and was comfortable continually working out of the windup. It finally hit him in the dugout between innings that he hadn't worked with any runners on base, a welcome feeling.
"Yeah, you're just locked in and hitting your spots," Thorpe said. "I didn't think about it until about the fourth or fifth inning and I'm like, 'I haven't pitched out of the stretch tonight.' I just started laughing at myself and put myself back in and started hitting every spot. I didn't throw a lot of changeups, I think I threw two changeups. The fastball, curveball and slider were working and I got ahead and stayed ahead.
"You're locked in, you don't think about [pitching out of the stretch] that much. They hit a double in the seventh and there were two outs. You just get back to what you're used to doing and pitch. Ended up getting [Lavarnway out], but if you end up thinking about that stuff, that's where you go downhill."
Pitching into the eighth for the first time this season, Thorpe retired the first two batters before Wendell Rijo doubled to center field. Another runner in scoring position did nothing to disrupt the left-hander, who struck out Billy Fleming to cap his evening.
"That was awesome. Skins [Joel Skinner], the manager, had faith in me to get out of it. Stu, too, and Mike," Thorpe said of the eighth. "I'm very thankful for them for letting me finish off the eighth. I didn't even realize I hadn't gone eight, so that's a new thing for me. That's awesome and I'm happy I could get through eight."
Thorpe lowered his ERA by more than three runs to 7.25. The numbers might not be where he'd like them to be, but he knows these last two outings could be the building blocks for even stronger starts.
2019 MiLB include
"It's just a big relief that I can compete at this level -- my stuff plays," Thorpe said. "I've just got to believe in myself, and I think I've shown that in my last two outings. ... To be able to do that and bounce back from those two starts is a great feeling."
Preston Guilmet tossed a perfect ninth to close out the Red Wings' third win in four games.
Sixth-ranked Twins prospect Brent Rooker homered on a two-hit night, while LaMonte Wade Jr was 3-for-4 with three RBIs and a run scored for the Red Wings.