J.T. Brubaker slogged through April, but he's put those struggles behind him with relative ease since the calendar flipped to May. And he did it by going on the offensive.
"I've just been attacking hitters, having that bulldog mentality on the mound and going right after them from pitch one to the last pitch when I'm taken out," Brubaker said. "Just attacking with the fastball, not backing down from the hitters, attacking with my best stuff and knowing it's better than what their swing is."
The Pirates prospect set a season high with 10 strikeouts and matched his career high by going seven innings as Double-A Altoona shut out Portland, 6-0, on Tuesday at Peoples Natural Gas Field. It was the fourth time in his past five starts that he allowed one run or fewer.
Gameday box score
Brubaker (4-2) faced the minimum through four innings, fanning seven, including two apiece in the first, second and fourth. He allowed an infield single to Tzu-Wei Lin, the second batter he faced in the first, but Jin-De Jhang caught him stealing second.
"Early on, I was working the fastball in and out and letting the off-speed play off it," Brubaker said. "The second time through the lineup was backwards, getting that off-speed for a strike, then fastball in and out and back to the off-speed."
The 23-year-old right-hander allowed singles to two of the first three batters he faced in the fifth as Jeremy Barfield led off with a knock to left and Mike Olt singled to center after Red Sox No. 9 prospect Nick Longhi lined to right. Three pitches later, he was out of the inning after Josh Tobias flied to left and Jake Romanski grounded to short.
"My approach was just to induce contact, let them swing the bat and [get them to] swing at my pitch, and they did," Brubaker said. "It was the same game plan: off-speed, fastball in and out and force them to make contact and let my defense work."
The 2015 sixth-round pick didn't allow another baserunner the rest of the way and became the first Curve pitcher with double-digit strikeouts in a game since Tyler Glasnow fanned 12 against Akron on July 27, 2015. In his last two starts, Brubaker has given up five hits and walked none while striking out 15 over 13 scoreless innings.
Video: Altoona's Brubaker registers 10th K
Compare that to the four starts he made in April, when he surrendered 15 runs -- 13 earned -- on 26 hits and eight walks in 23 innings. Over his last 33 2/3 frames, Brubaker is 3-0 with a 2.41 ERA.
"I was just making sure I stayed focused every pitch, every time I stepped on the mound, every hitter and not losing that little bit of focus for one pitch and trying to get back onto it," Brubaker said. "Just keeping the mentality that I'm gonna go all-out every pitch until the ball is taken out of my hand."
That mentality has worked well for the 6-foot-4, 175-pound right-hander, who has improved his control in a big way this season. His 14 walks in 56 2/3 innings are a marked improvement to the 46 free passes he issued over 129 2/3 frames across two levels in 2015.
"It was just becoming more consistent with my fastball and being able to work both sides of the plate instead of being a one-side-of-the-plate-type of pitcher," Brubaker said. "It comes back again to attacking hitters instead of trying to nibble the corners. I think that's the biggest change -- instead of trying to be too fine, I've just attacked them straight on."
Jordan Luplow went 2-for-3 with a two-run single in a four-run eighth that extended the Curve's lead to 6-0. Elvis Escobar hit his first homer of the season on a two-hit night.
Red Sox No. 7 prospect Travis Lakins (0-4) turned in his best start in more than a month in a losing effort, allowing two runs on six hits and one walk while striking out two over six innings.