After Alex Wells wowed Baltimore executives in 2017 and was named the organization's Minor League Pitcher of the Year, Carolina League batters were well aware the left-handed Aussie wasn't to be taken lightly.
Rather than scheming a rigid gameplan for opponents in his new league as hitters may have done for him, Wells learned Monday the fastest way toward professional success is to let it fly.
Gameday box score
Behind an aggressive fastball, Wells delivered a career night, allowing three hits and striking out a personal-best nine without a walk over eight innings, the longest outing of his career, as Class A Advanced Frederick outlasted Lynchburg, 1-0, in 10 innings at Nymeo Field.
After registering a 2.38 ERA over 140 innings for Class A Delmarva a year ago to earn the organization's Jim Palmer Minor League Pitcher of the Year Award, the Orioles No. 9 prospect found the jump up to the Carolina League to start 2018 to be a difficult one. Getting used to a new set of batters with a higher skill level took at least one trip around the circuit and the hitters often won the first round.
"At the start of the season, I was just trying to do too much," Wells said, who was named to the league's North Division All-Star team earlier Monday. "Now that I've seen some guys a few times, I've settled down a bit, and I feel like I know how to pitch. It's baseball. They're all going to have their day."
Monday was his day, though, after Wells took a decidedly more aggressive approach with his fastball. The pitch often sits in the high 80s, topping out around 91 mph, but his command make it an effective primary pitch. Wells felt he hadn't been throwing that pitch full throttle, which prevented his changeup and curveball from having their desired effect. A five-inning start in which he gave up four earned runs on six hits and four walks against Potomac on June 6 signaled for a change.
"Coming into today, I just wanted to work hard after that last start. It was definitely not my best," he said. "But I've been working hard through the middle of the week leading up to this. I wanted to have a good bullpen and routine and really get out there and have fun."
Wells had to work for it, though. The southpaw gave up a leadoff single to Indians No. 27 prospect Mitch Longo on a ground ball to center. But after getting Dillon Persinger to ground into a forceout, Wells got some assistance from catcher Stuart Levy, who roped a throw to shortstop Chris Clare to pick off Persinger. He escaped unscathed by getting Trenton Brooks to line out to right.
"After that first one, I knew I had to just get back on the rubber and throw the next pitch. I was hoping to create a ground-ball double play, but we couldn't turn it," he said. "Luckily, my catcher helped me out a bit with that runner stealing and we picked up some momentum."
Logan Ice singled on a line drive to right with one out in the third, but Wells got Alexis Pantoja to ground into a force out before fanning Longo. After that, he sat down his next 12 batters.
"I think tonight, it helped me just being more aggressive with the fastball and throwing it with aggression, not thinking about who was in the batter's box," the 21-year-old said. "Just throwing every pitch with conviction. That helped. My last start looking back, I just didn't feel aggressive."
Wells surrendered his final hit of the night to Brooks on a grounder to right in the seventh, then struck out Jodd Carter and Anthony Miller to ease into the eighth. He induced Jorma Rodriguez to fly out, fanned Emmanuel Tapia and snagged Ice's grounder to finish the inning. He campaigned to take the mound again in the ninth, having thrown 85 pitches for 65 strikes, but his coaches resisted with the game still scoreless.
In the bottom of the 10th in the Keys' first extra-inning game of the season, Clare lined a walk-off single to right that scored T.J. Nichting.
"I wanted to be out there the whole night in that situation, but ... it was fun to celebrate that walk-off. It doesn't matter if it was in the ninth or the 10th, it was a good win," Wells said. "Now, I just want to go back and do my routine again and get back on the mound, try to repeat what I did tonight. I feel more hungry to get back out there."
Zach Muckenhirn (1-1) allowed a hit and a walk while striking out two over two frames for the victory.
Indians No. 17 prospect Sam Hentges -- who also was named a North Division All-Star -- kept pace with Wells, scattering four hits and three walks while striking out six over 6 2/3 innings for the Hillcats.