Aaron Wilkerson was disappointed to find out he'd be starting the season at Double-A. Now he's using it as motivation to be baseball's next independent-league success story.
Starts like the one he had Wednesday night will definitely aid that cause.
Video: Biloxi's Wilkerson strikes out the side
The Milwaukee right-hander surrendered just one hit, a solo homer to Carlos Franco in the seventh inning, and struck out a season-high nine over seven frames to lead Biloxi to a 4-1 win over Mississippi. His effort followed five hitless frames Tuesday by teammate Luis Ortiz.
"At first, the Brewers' decision to have me start the year at Double-A was a kick in the gut," admitted Wilkerson, who made 20 appearances at Triple-A between Pawtucket and Colorado Springs last year. "But after seeing what the organization's intention behind the decision was, I accepted it. I'm just proud to be here because there are millions of guys who'd want to be in my shoes."
Wilkerson (3-2) made a good play on a soft ground ball back to the mound by Luis Valenzuela to record the first out of the game, but then walked Braves No. 7 prospect Ronald Acuna. It was the only free pass issued by the 27-year-old, who walked eight batters in his previous three outings spanning 13 2/3 innings.
Gameday box score
"I didn't feel like I truly walked [Acuna], I felt like I got a little squeezed on the inside corner," he said. "The past couple of starts, I felt like I haven't been getting that call and I like to throw inside. But I kept going back in and didn't let the umpires dictate how I pitched."
Wilkerson rebounded by striking out the next two hitters to begin a stretch in which he sat down 19 in a row.
"Everything was going right for me," he said. "I could throw all four of my pitches for a strike in any count and my defense made some terrific plays behind me."
Video: Mississippi's Franco homers, ends no-no
Wilkerson carried his no-hit bid into the seventh and struck out the first two hitters of the frame. The Texas native then made his only mistake when he left a 1-1 fastball up to Franco, who took him deep to right field for the Braves' only run.
"It was a curveball that I kind of got around and it broke into his bat," Wilkerson explained. "He got extended on it pretty well and got it out, so you just tip your cap there."
With the no-hit bid and shutout over, Wilkerson collected himself and struck out Keith Curcio on three pitches to finish off his best outing of the year.
"I didn't veer from who I am as a pitcher, and it was definitely a confident boost going seven innings. The past few games, I've only been going five or six and haven't been able to close the door," he added.
In seven starts this season, Wilkerson has amassed a 3.47 ERA and a 1.27 WHIP. The Cumberland University product isn't known for overpowering stuff, but still has averaged more than a strikeout per inning this season, with 41 punchouts in 36 1/3 innings.
"I am just trusting my process and working on being mentally prepared," Wilkerson said. "The Southern League is difficult. There's no secrets and there's nothing to hide, playing the same team over and over again. I think that I've learned how to prepare for that and it has really helped to develop me as a player."
Brewers No. 9 prospect Mauricio Dubon, who leads the Southern League with 49 hits, ripped an RBI double and came around to score on a throwing error by second baseman Travis Demeritte in the third. The 22-year-old native of Honduras reached base in all four of his at-bats.
Video: Biloxi's Dubon brings in two runs
"It's always nice to have a familiar face behind you," Wilkerson said of Dubon, who also came over to Milwaukee from Boston. "We had an immediate connection and reliability on one another, so it makes pitching a lot easier knowing what he's capable of behind me and at the plate."