Injuries limited Jose De Leon to two starts over the first eight weeks of the season. And while the 23-year-old right-hander is still delivering on the promise his talented right arm possesses, that time in the trainer's room and off the mound was frustrating.
"It's always tough on the mind as well as physically," De Leon said. "Once you get going and in a groove, you want to keep rolling. To have to stop, then come back and then get hurt again, it's tough. But it's part of the game and you have to deal with it, so you do whatever it takes to get back on track."
The Dodgers' second-ranked prospect appears on the right path, recording a season high 10 strikeouts over 5 2/3 solid innings on Friday night as Triple-A Oklahoma City defeated Reno, 9-3, at Greater Nevada Field.
Los Angeles kept De Leon (2-0) in extended spring training after he suffered a minor ankle injury in March, delaying his first start until May 3. He tossed five shutout innings against New Orleans and three more in his next start against Round Rock before getting shut down again, this time with shoulder discomfort that cost him another month on the disabled list.
"I'm finally starting to get into my rhythm," De Leon said. "I'm feeling great and, even more importantly, feeling better the day after I pitch. After about 25 or 30 innings is when your arm starts to get into the best shape, and that's where I'm at right now."
MLB.com's No. 20 overall prospect allowed two baserunners through the first three innings against the Aces. He struck out the final two batters in the first and three in the second to give him five consecutive whiffs. De Leon worked around a one-out double to Mark Thomas and a walk to Mike Freeman in the third.
The Puerto Rico native encountered trouble again in the fourth and was unable to keep Reno off the board. He issued a leadoff walk to Mitch Haniger and fanned D-backs No. 7 prospect Peter O'Brien, but Kyle Jensen doubled home Haniger with Reno's first run. After striking out No. 9 prospect Gabby Guerrero, De Leon gave up an RBI single to Carlos Rivero.
De Leon worked around two more baserunners in the fifth when he yielded a double to Freeman and walked Haniger. He surrendered a one-out single to Guerrero in the sixth and was lifted after getting Rivero to pop out to first. The Southern University product threw a season-high 102 pitches and allowed five hits and three walks to go with the 10 strikeouts.
"Simply attacking hitters," De Leon said. "We stuck to the plan tonight from the very beginning. Mixing the fastball in with the change and not using the breaking ball as much. It worked out nicely."
Although the right-hander sports a 3.06 ERA and 54 strikeouts over 35 1/3 innings, he only has two wins in eight starts. But that's not a statistic that concerns him at all.
"We really take pride in giving our team a chance to win," De Leon said. "If you do that, it's a success. If you lose but pitch well and give the team a chance to win, that's all you can control. Having a competitor's mindset, that's all you care about."
Zach Walters hit his 10th homer, a two-run shot, and pinch-hitter O'Koyea Dickson added a three-run blast in the eighth after the Aces had cut the lead to 4-3. Micah Johnson, the Dodgers' 14th-ranked prospect, reached base three times on two singles and a walk.
Reno starter John Omahen (0-2) allowed four runs on eight hits and three walks with two strikeouts in five innings.
Michael Avallone is a contributor to MiLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @MavalloneMiLB.