No matter what role he's been used in this year, Christian Torres has been a model of consistency for Class A Hickory. So when the Crawdads played a stretch of six games in five days and were short on arms, manager Spike Owen had no concerns about calling upon the southpaw for a spot start.
"It doesn't matter when you bring him in or what situation of the game he's in," Owen said. "He's confident in his abilities and he knows how to pitch."
Torres yielded just one hit over a career-high six innings as Hickory blanked Columbia, 5-0, on Thursday night at Spirit Communications Park. He struck out three.
Video: Torres pitches six scoreless frames
"He was outstanding, he picked us up big time in a spot start for us," the skipper said. "We've had several doubleheaders this last week. We needed him to pick up some slack, and he did just that.
"Christian's a three-pitch guy -- fastball or sinker, slider and changeup. He commands the zone, and tonight he was exceptional, especially his changeup. His changeup was really on tonight and he kept them off balance. A lot of ground balls, the defense played well behind him. And there were a lot of quick outs, he was really efficient."
Owen has primarily used Torres as a long reliever, but when the Crawdads played their second doubleheader in three days Tuesday, the manager knew it was time to turn to the native of Puerto Rico for his second start in 25 games with the club.
The former Major Leaguer expected Torres (3-2) to throw about 75 pitches to keep his limited bullpen arms fresh, and he delivered on that, tossing 54 of 77 pitches for strikes while recording 12 ground-ball outs. The 2016 30th-round pick had one three-ball count and recorded six outs on three pitches or fewer.
Torres reduced his South Atlantic League ERA to 2.98 over 63 1/3 frames, which would be good for seventh on the circuit if he had enough innings to qualify.
Gameday box score
Owen was particularly impressed with the way the 23-year-old continually kept his pitches low and away.
"He pitches to both sides of the plate and his command is usually good, and tonight it was really good," Owen said. "His sinker was down to the right-handers. It was a predominantly right-handed-hitting lineup. They had just one lefty in the lineup, which ironically is the only guy who got a hit. He was pounding it down and getting good sink. His changeup is a good pitch anyway for him, but tonight it was exceptionally good."
The Faulkner University product retired eight of the first nine batters faced, working around a second-inning fielding error by first baseman Andretty Cordero. No. 5 Mets prospect Andres Gimenez broke through with a two-out single in the third, but Torres got J.J. Franco to fly out to left to end the frame.
Owen could tell Torres had his best stuff working in all counts after the first third of the game.
"I thought the stuff was there from the start," the manager said. "He's always been a guy that will throw the ball over the plate and look for contact. His changeup showed up later, not that he didn't use it early. But once he found that and saw that they were swinging at it, they couldn't pick it up."
Using his off-speed stuff to perfection, Torres set down the final 10 batters faced, with just two balls leaving the infield. Owen admires that the 6-foot, 160-pound hurler handles any opportunity -- including the five appearances he made with Triple-A Round Rock this year -- with great aplomb.
"He's very reliable," Owen said. "You can use him in any situation, really. He's good against lefties and righties. Certainly with the slider that he has on lefties in a lefty-lefty matchup, he can come in for one inning if it's a situation where there are lefties. He's done well up and down our system this year.
"Obviously he's done a great job for us, knows how to pitch and knows what he wants to do. When he has command like tonight, he's pretty tough."
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Jairo Beras followed with two scoreless innings before Sal Mendez allowed a hit in the ninth for Hickory.
Alex Kowalczyk collected three hits and three RBIs, while top-ranked Rangers prospect Leody Taveras added two hits, walked twice and scored twice.