Drew Benes talks to his dad, former Major League pitcher Andy Benes, on the phone before and after every start. Following his outing Sunday, that call was probably an upbeat one.
Benes (1-2) scattered three hits and a walk over seven innings in Class A Advanced Palm Beach's 3-0 shutout of Charlotte. He struck out five in his strongest start of the season.
The effort was a turnaround from the previous three outings for Benes, who was a reliever his first two seasons in professional baseball before the Cardinals informed him during Spring Training he'd be starting this year. In those outings, he went 0-2 with a 6.43 ERA over 14 innings as he tried to get a feel for taking his turn in the rotation instead of coming out of the bullpen.
"My first couple outings I was just trying to build up my stamina, my pitch count," Benes said. "Today felt really good, I felt strong. [My dad] has a lot of advice, a lot of good things to say. I'm excited to call him after this one, it's going to be a good one after today."
Benes said his father -- the first overall pick by San Diego in the 1988 Draft who pitched for 14 years in the big leagues with the Cardinals, Diamondbacks and Mariners along with the Padres -- has helped him adjust to the physical and mental routine of starting for the first time since he pitched at Arkansas State University.
Even in college, Benes only pitched for one year after converting from the infield following his freshman season.
"He helps a lot. I didn't pitch a whole lot growing up or in high school, so I hadn't worked with him a whole lot until my sophomore year of college," the 23-year-old said. "One thing I love about him is he doesn't lie to me. He'll tell me the truth, whether I look good or bad, and he does it in a nice way and offers things that might help on the mound, especially mentally."
On Sunday, Benes said using his curveball more frequently helped him go through the lineup for the second and third times, something he had struggled with in his first three starts while heavily relying on a fastball-changeup combination that had served him well as a reliever.
The strong day on the mound brought Benes' ERA down to 4.29 and he sports 18 strikeouts and just three walks over 21 innings.
"I love starting. It's good to be in a routine and get consistent work done throughout the week," Benes said. "My first couple starts, I was trying to get my legs underneath me. But every start, I feel like I've built on it and been able to go a little deeper. My goal is to be able to have the stamina to pitch the whole game. Today was great, going seven."
Benes' primary offensive support came from shortstop Ronny Gil, who went 2-for-2 and drove in two of the Cardinals' three runs.
Aidan Lucas allowed a hit and struck out one in the eighth and Logan Billbrough fanned one in a perfect ninth to seal the shutout.