Rancho Cucamonga is now comfortably above .500 after winning five of its final six games in May, all on the road. Part of the Quakes' success has come from a somewhat surprising source, a non-drafted free agent who's spent most of his career as a reliever -- until now.
Right-hander Matt Shoemaker has thrown two complete games in his last three starts, including a masterful performance May 29 in which he recorded a personal-best 12 strikeouts in nine innings.
"The biggest thing was throwing strikes and getting ahead," said Shoemaker, who is second in the league with 64 strikeouts. "Defense is a huge part of it. Our defense has been pretty phenomenal lately."
The complete games were sandwiched around a poor start May 23, when Shoemaker went four innings and gave up five runs on seven hits and four walks at home against Inland Empire.
"The start before was a little rough," he said. "It's something you learn from. You try to get better."
Shoemaker certainly did that, rebounding with perhaps his best outing as a pro. "Going out [to pitch] is always a challenge. It's about going out and competing. If it's rough [the start] before, you always want to come out and do better the next time."
The Quakes completed a four-game a sweep at Visalia before losing two of three against North Division-leading San Jose Giants. Shoemaker knows the challenge that lies ahead as his club chases a pair of hot teams in the South Division, Lake Elsinore and High Desert.
"You want to win and you want to play well," Shoemaker said. "Everybody goes out there and plays their game. [If we're] executing mentally and physically, wins will come."
Shoemaker and the rest of his teammates are facing a future without their best hitter, Roberto Lopez. The versatile hitter logged time in the outfield and at first base and catcher and hit .346 with 42 RBIs before he was promoted to Double-A Arkansas on Sunday.
"He was a big part of the lineup," said Shoemaker, who remains confident that the Quakes can sustain their winning ways. "The Angels organization was so great because we have hitters all over. Somebody will come in and we'll just keep on."
Shoemaker is thriving with a rare background for a player in the United States. He pitched three seasons at Eastern Michigan University but wasn't drafted, despite saving 14 games in 2007. He switched back to the rotation for the 2008 season, his red-shirt junior year, and made 11 starts with 44 strikeouts in 86 2/3 innings.
With no takers in the Draft, Shoemaker returned to the Great Lakes League, a summer collegiate circuit where he'd had success the year before.
"In college you talk to several teams whether you get drafted or not," he said. He spoke to scouts from different organizations during his 2008 summer season, attracting the most interest from an Angels scout.
"Later that summer I signed [with the Angels]," he said. "A door opened up, and I took advantage of it."
Raining hits: Storm shortstop Drew Cumberland took home Player of the Week honors after clubbing three home runs and two doubles to go along with seven RBIs from May 24-30. He has 12 hits and nine runs scored in his last six games and leads the Storm with a .376 average.
Sparkling performance: Inland Empire's Ethan Martin took some lumps in May, allowing 20 hits and 16 runs in 25 2/3 innings. The Dodgers' prized pitching prospect rebounded May 27 with a complete-game shutout against Bakersfield. Martin struck out nine and allowed only three hits. The right-hander, who was named Pitcher of the Week on Tuesday, is 2-0 in his last two starts with four hits and one run allowed. He recorded 15 strikeouts in as many innings over those starts.
Stick with it: San Jose's Ehire Adrianza slumped in late April and most of May, going 0-for-17 as the calendar changed over. He fell from the top of the Giants' lineup to seventh and then ninth. But the young shortstop has risen from his nadir to hit .384 (10-for-26) since May 24, including a three-hit performance against Rancho Cucamonga on Sunday.
Lately, not so great: Modesto's Ethan Hollingsworth started the year hot, going 3-1 with a 1.04 ERA in four April starts. He stumbled in May with two straight losses to close the month, but he's hanging tough in the league arms race, placing third in strikeouts at 63 and fourth in ERA at 2.57.