It's a long way from Hawaii to Wisconsin for Jordan Yamamoto. But the 20-year-old is putting the finishing touches on a season that will make the lengthy trip home much easier to handle.
The Milwaukee right-hander struck out a career-high 11 while allowing three hits without a walk over six scoreless innings as Class A Wisconsin beat Cedar Rapids, 4-1, on Thursday night.
It was the second consecutive dominating performance for Yamamoto (7-8), who fanned 10 over seven innings in his previous start on Aug. 26 against Quad Cities. Over his last five outings, he has allowed five earned runs on 18 hits and three walks while punching out 39 batters in 28 innings. His 152 strikeouts lead the Midwest League and he credits one man in particular for his breakout season.
"Having Gary Lucas as pitching coach has been very helpful this season," the Hawaii native said. "Being able to throw strikes and command all of my pitches has been big. Hitting the corners and learning to pitch out of jams has been a very big help to me. I think just learning to pitch. Not throw but actually pitch. Plus learning the batters, how to attack in different counts and how to approach different situations has been key."
Yamamoto gave up a single to Casey Scoggins to start the game. Nelson Molina moved him to second, but the righty retired the next two batters. He struck out seven of the next eight he faced until Luis Arraez doubled with two outs in the fourth.
He struck out two more in the fifth and retired the first two batters in the sixth before Molina singled. A passed ball by Wisconsin backstop Max McDowell moved the runner to second, but Yamamoto rebounded to fan Zander Wiel to end his evening after 90 pitches.
"The key was just throwing strikes," the 2014 12th-round pick said. "They're a very good hitting team. One of the better ones I've faced in this league. Throwing strikes and trusting in the defense behind me really helped."
Yamamoto needed to be strong as Cedar Rapids starter Lachlan Wells was perfect through five innings. McDowell singled for Wisconsin's first hit leading off the sixth against Minnesota's No. 30 prospect, who allowed three unearned runs on three hits with a career-high 11 strikeouts in 6 1/3 innings.
Video: Cedar Rapids' Wells fans 11th batter
"We were out there competing," Yamamoto said. "And growing up, competing is the top thing for me. Growing up in Hawaii, that's what you learn, to compete. I never back down from a challenge or pass up a chance to compete. It was a challenge, but just taking it pitch by pitch and inning by inning is what helped me get through it."
Carlos Belonis belted a two-run double in the seventh for Wisconsin, which has won six of its last seven games.