After three straight stellar seasons shot him up to Triple-A Reno to open 2019, Taylor Widener experienced some growing pains with the Aces as his ERA ballooned into the double digits on multiple occasions. As the All-Star break draws near, however, he appears to be correcting course on his early season woes.
The D-backs' No. 3 prospect earned Pacific Coast League Pitcher of the Week honors after striking out 14 batters and allowing just two runs and seven hits in 11 innings over two starts from June 24-30. It's his second time winning such an award -- he received Southern League Pitcher of the Week honors last May with Double-A Jackson.
• View the Offensive Player of the Week winners »
It was a major sign of improvement for the 24-year-old right-hander, but Aces pitching coach Jeff Bajenaru wasn't surprised to see it. He says nothing drastically changed for Widener between these two outings and his previous 15 -- he's still just developing as a pitcher at such a high level.
"He's stayed with his process all year," he said. "He started out really rough, getting hit around a bit and walking guys. Just a rude awakening in the PCL -- just new balls, new hitters. He's still fairly young for this level. He stayed with his process. Never got outside of his mind-set of who he was."
Widener kicked off the week by tossing the first six innings of a shutout against Salt Lake on Tuesday, a three-hit effort in which he also gave up one walk and struck out five. He allowed more than one batter to reach in an inning only once, as Taylor Ward led off the first with a double and Jared Walsh walked with two outs. It was Widener's first scoreless start this season and matched his longest outing of the year as well.
"It was fun to watch," Bajenaru said. "He put up zeroes. Putting up zeroes in the PCL is always fun to see, and it's pretty rare. So I was pretty pumped for him."
2019 MiLB include
Widener delivered another effective performance on Sunday, surrendering two hits and a walk over five innings while allowing two runs and tying his season-high strikeout total with nine. Dustin Fowler took him deep in the first inning, and Nick Martini drove in Jorge Mateo with a single to right in the third. Widener was absolutely nails the rest of the way, however, striking out five of the final seven batters he faced.
The South Carolina alum's ERA now sits at 7.85, the first time it's been south of 8.00 since it sat at 5.40 after his first start of the season. The mark has shrunk steadily with each of his last six outings, falling from as high as 10.06 at the beginning of June.
This stretch will likely have a resounding effect moving forward, according to Bajenaru, as it will allow Widener to pitch with more trust in himself knowing that he's capable of competing at the Triple-A level despite his early struggles.
"The big thing is that he's finally got some confidence, seeing that he can get these guys out, especially good teams and good hitters," he said. "I mean, he's done it for a couple starts now. So I think if he just keeps that mentality, which I know he will, it'll allow him to play it out in the second half and finish really strong."
And if he can do that for the Aces, a leap to the next level may soon be in the cards.
"He's got the stuff right now to pitch in the big leagues," Bajenaru said. "It just a matter of consistency in repeating that out. So if he can finish the year strong, he's got a chance to be a big league pitcher for sure."
Below is the complete list of Minor League Pitchers of the Week for June 24-30 (except Southern League, which is from June 20-30).
||2-0, 1.64 ERA, 2 G, 2 GS, 9 2/3 IP, 8 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 1 HBP, 4 BB, 14 K
||1-0, 1.64 ERA, 2 G, 2 GS, 11 IP, 7 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 2 BB, 14 K
||1-0, 0.00 ERA, 1 G, 1 GS, 7 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 2 BB, 9 K
||1-0, 0.69 ERA, 2 G, 2 GS, 13 IP, 6 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 2 BB, 8 K
||1-0, 0.00 ERA, 1 G, 1 GS, 7 IP, 1 H, 1 R, 0 ER, 3 BB, 10 K
||1-0, 1.64 ERA, 2 G, 2 GS, 11 IP, 7 H, 3 R, 2 ER, 1 HBP, 2 BB, 14 K
||Emmanuel De Los Santos
||1-1, 0.71 ERA, 2 G, 2 GS, 1 CG, 12 2/3 IP, 14 H, 4 R, 1 ER, 1 HBP, 2 BB, 18 K
||1-0, 0.00 ERA, 1 G, 1 GS, 7 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 1 BB, 11 K
||1-0, 0.00 ERA, 1 G, 1 GS, 8 IP, 2 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 2 HBP, 0 BB, 9 K
||1-0, 0.00 ERA, 1 G, 1 GS, 6 IP, 0 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 2 BB, 6 K
||1-0, 0.00 ERA, 1 G, 1 GS, 6 IP, 3 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 0 BB, 9 K
||1-0, 0.00 ERA, 2 G, 2 GS, 10 IP, 5 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 3 BB, 18 K
||1-0, 0.00 ERA, 1 G, 1 GS, 6 IP, 2 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 0 BB, 11 K
||1-0, 0.00 ERA, 1 G, 1 GS, 5 IP, 2 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 0 BB, 4 K