According to Daniel Straily, he's never considered himself a strikeout pitcher, but he may have to start rethinking that.
The Double-A Midland right-hander recorded his fourth start with 10 or more strikeouts this season Monday, fanning 11 while scattering three hits and a walk over seven scoreless innings in the RockHounds' 9-0 whitewashing of Tulsa.
In 2008 with Marshall University, his final collegiate season, Straily struck out just 57 batters in 82 innings, a strikeouts-per-nine-innings ratio of 6.26. Since becoming a pro in 2009, though, he's really ramped things up, always hovering around at least a strikeout-per-inning average.
"I was never a strikeout pitcher in college, and even tonight I wasn't necessarily trying to strike guys out," he said. "I just found myself in the right situation, and they've just been kind of happening. You make quality pitches at the right times, and I've been pretty fortunate to get that many punchouts."
The Oregon native's ratio in 2009 with Class A Short-Season Vancouver was 10.09. The next year, with Class A Kane County, he registered a 9.06 mark, and last season with Class A Advanced Stockton he clocked in at 8.63. A logical progression, by and large, as he's advanced through the Minor League ranks to face tougher competition.
Only this year, with Midland, his K/9 sits at 11.36 following Monday's outing.
"It's a surprise to me," he said. "Someone makes that jump to High-A and then to Double-A and you see numbers drop, but they haven't really for me. I'm just grasping the throwing program, going through the long progression of learning my pitches and learning what kind of pitcher I am."
After Monday, Straily (3-4) maintains a 3.79 ERA in 71 1/3 innings over 12 starts, with only 23 walks against 90 strikeouts, far and away the most in the Texas League. It's the second highest total, in fact, in all the Minor Leagues, behind only Reno's Trevor Bauer.
He struck out 15 in a start May 18 against Corpus Christi, and in only three outings this year, he has struck out less than six. That hasn't always led to accordingly dominant results, though.
"It's been a rocky year so far, which is kind of tough to say for someone that has a lot of strikeouts," said Straily. "I've had outings where I've been hit around, and I just have to keep the fastball down. If you're able to locate it, you're not going to get hit.
"It doesn't matter how hard you're throwing, how slow, you have to locate it. That's been the biggest lesson for me this year."
The 23-year-old said his start Monday deviated from recent norms in that he racked up most of his strikeouts using a fastball-changeup combination, as opposed to his more customary fastball-slider offering.
"I threw a couple sliders early in the game and they were flat," he said. "The changeup was diving. It was effective, so I kept throwing it."
Josh Horton, Ryan Lipkin and Anthony Allioti all had two RBIs apiece to spur the RockHounds' offensive effort. Right fielder Jeremy Barfield doubled and singled.
Reliever Arnold Leon scattered two hits and striking out three over the final two frames to seal the shutout.