When Double-A Montgomery pitching coach R.C. Lichtenstein approached Brendan McKay during his side session last weekend in Jacksonville and told him his next outing would be out of the bullpen, the southpaw absorbed the information and that was that. Other than delaying his pregame warmup routine, the change wouldn't affect his approach.
It certainly didn't affect his pitching.
The Rays' No. 3 prospect allowed two hits and a walk while striking out nine over six innings out of the bullpen as Montgomery blanked Jackson, 3-0, on Wednesday at Montgomery Riverwalk Stadium.
Video: Montgomery's McKay fans ninth
The Rays have McKay putting a heightened focus on pitching by eliminating his defensive responsibilities this season. Now they might want to consider a relief role as well. Last year, he made a pair of relief appearances for Class A Advanced Charlotte, delivering 11 scoreless innings. The left-hander kept his ERA as a reliever unblemished with his latest performance and has yielded five hits and two walks in 17 total frames out of the bullpen.
"I honestly don't know if there's anything specific to the success," McKay said. "You're just going out there and doing the same thing you're doing, just coming out of the bullpen. There's no real difference in the mind-set or anything."
MLB.com's No. 29 overall prospect kept another streak intact Wednesday -- he has not allowed a run in 20 innings nor one in his last three outings (17 innings). He lowered his ERA to 1.30, which ranks second in the Southern League behind Tennessee's Tyson Miller, who has a 1.17 mark.
Gameday box score
"The more you get comfortable, things fall into place. You get in a rhythm," McKay said. "You got a good feel for the strike zone and you're throwing strikes. Staying ahead of hitters, it's a lot easier than if you're working from behind, trying to fight to get outs."
McKay (3-0) set down the first 14 Generals he faced, punching out seven.
"You realize you haven't worked out of the stretch yet," the No. 3 left-handed pitching prospect said. "Even then, you don't worry about it if a guy happens to get a hit, get on base somehow. You just keep rolling with what you're doing."
D-backs No. 11 prospect Andy Young singled with two outs in the seventh for Jackson's first hit against McKay, but the 2017 fourth overall Draft pick found himself in trouble an inning later after 14th-ranked Drew Ellis walked and No. 25 Dominic Miroglio singled.
The 23-year-old escaped by inducing a foul pop from Jeffrey Baez, whiffing Ben DeLuzio and getting D-backs No. 4 prospect Daulton Varsho to look at a looping curveball for strike three to end the inning and his outing. McKay threw 62 of 84 pitches for strikes.
"When there's either guys in scoring position or guys on base in general, you want to limit how much impact they have on the game, kind of like every other pitcher does," McKay said. "You want to make everything a lot sharper and try to force them to hit a pitcher's pitch rather than a mistake."
The hook the 2018 MiLB.com Organizational All-Star threw to Varsho was arguably his sharpest breaking pitch of the night, he said.
"I hadn't thrown a whole lot of them tonight," he added. "A few of the earlier ones were a little softer, didn't have as much depth or break to them. But that last one, especially in an 0-2 or 1-2 count there, you want to throw the best one you got."
The University of Louisville product enjoyed a successful first full season in the Minor Leagues in 2018. Making six starts for Class A Bowling Green and nine for and Charlotte, he struck out 94 and compiled a 2.55 ERA over 72 1/3 innings.
This year, McKay sports a 0.82 WHIP and .172 opponents' batting average, both of which rank second on the circuit behind Miller. Over 41 2/3 innings, he's struck out a league-leading 62. The nine punchouts against Jackson were his second-highest mark of this year; he fanned a career-high 11 in his Double-A debut on April 11.
"I think [this season's] been going pretty well," McKay said. "The adaptation is just get ahead of hitters and stay ahead of hitters, really. Don't give them any life at the plate. When you've got guys down, put them away. Even if they do battle back and get it even or a positive count for them, you still have to make your pitch.
"Hitting, as hard as it is, if pitchers are making pitches, it's even harder."
Of any pitcher in the Minors, McKay has one of the more unique perspectives as a two-way player. The Darlington, Pennsylvania, native has served as the Biscuits' designated hitter 23 times this season and is batting .167 with two extra-base hits -- both doubles -- and eight RBIs.
2019 MiLB include
Although he misses playing first base, he said he understands it's an effort to keep him healthy. McKay landed on the injured list twice last season with oblique issues.
"Being a competitor, like any athlete, you want to be out on the field to have any impact you can," he said. "I can't say there's anything wrong about it. Just trying to keep the health all good this year, stay healthy as long as I can -- hopefully, through the end of the season and for the majority of my career."
Montgomery closer Curtis Taylor, who is 7-for-7 in save chances this season, earned the start as McKay's "opener." The right-hander struck out a pair and gave up one hit in two innings.
Rays No. 15 prospect Josh Lowe went 2-for-4 with an RBI double and Miles Mastrobuoni plated a run with a triple.