If Casey Lawrence was searching for his groove since returning from the Major Leagues last month, it looks like he found it.
The Mariners right-hander pitched a three-hitter for his second "Maddux" -- a shutout on fewer than 100 pitches -- in less than a year as Triple-A Tacoma beat Memphis, 5-0, on Tuesday night at AutoZone Park. Daniel Vogelbach, the Mariners' 11th-ranked prospect, backed him with a grand slam.
Gameday box score
The formula for a Lawrence's dominant night was straightforward.
"Strike one," he said. "If I can get ahead in the count to kick things off, I can use some toys and move the ball around a little bit and make them hit my pitch. When you fall behind, you're kind of at the mercy of the hitter a little bit. You've got to come at them."
Lawrence (4-2) has been up and down the I-5 corridor between Tacoma and Seattle this year, making two relief appearances with the M's to start the season on March 31 and April 9 and two more on May 4-6. In between, he came out of the bullpen once and made two starts for the Rainiers. His latest return has him more firmly entrenched in a starting role, and he showed why on Tuesday.
"A couple starts in now, I'm starting to get a little bit more comfortable back in the starting rotation," he said. "I'm not bouncing around so much. I was just getting ahead with my fastball and throwing strikes early and letting the defense work."
Video: Tacoma's Lawrence finishes off shutout
Making his fourth straight start, the 30-year-old flummoxed the Redbirds all night. Lawrence was perfect until Tyler O'Neill -- MLB.com's No. 75 overall prospect -- rapped a two-out double to left field in the fourth inning. He followed with six consecutive outs, stranding O'Neill and later leaving aboard ninth-ranked Cardinals prospect Oscar Mercado, who doubled to left with two gone in the sixth. Memphis' prospect-dotted lineup didn't pose a threat to the Pennsylvania native.
"Honestly, I didn't know a whole lot about them," Lawrence said. "We went over them about a half-hour before the game. I recognized some names but really no history with many of them. It was one of those things where I was just going to pitch to my strength until I had to change, and luckily tonight, I could just kind of stick with my strengths and keep attacking them."
Wilfredo Tovar singled with two outs in the eighth and was Memphis' last baserunner as Lawrence set down the final four batters he faced.
The Albright College product finished his night on 97 pitches, 67 for strikes, two more than he threw in an eight-hit shutout against Albuquerque last July 3. In that gem, Lawrence threw 77 of 95 pitches for strikes, fanning seven without issuing a walk.
"It's just my aggressiveness and trying to carry it from start to start or inning to inning or pitch to pitch," he said. "I think that's the one thing that I'll take from this one, being aggressive with all my pitches and staying on the attack."
Vogelbach was the offensive catalyst for the Rainiers, clubbing his 10th homer of the season to right-center field in the third inning.
Video: Tacoma's Vogelbach bangs a grand slam
"Vogey put a good swing on a ball and put us up, 4-0," Lawrence said. "Anytime that can happen, like I talked about with my aggressiveness early in counts, it could just kind of grow as the game went because we had that little bit of a cushion. It was just one of those things where you stay on the offensive side of counts and keep attacking them and staying in those good counts.
"Vogey's got a very good eye for a power hitter. A lot of times you get those big guys in the middle of a lineup and they can kind of be overaggressive, but Vogey's got such a good eye. He really knows how to work counts and see pitches. I think it's just one of those things for him now, getting here to the middle of the season, he's got plenty of at-bats underneath his belt. Now it's just kind of putting things together and getting rolling."
Kirk Nieuwenhuis added an RBI single to right in the eighth for the Rainiers.