Jose Cisnero has been a different pitcher over the last few weeks. Nothing summed that up better than his outing on Saturday night.
The Astros prospect tossed a two-hitter for his first career complete game and shutout as the Double-A Corpus Christi Hooks coasted past the Frisco RoughRiders, 5-0.
Cisnero, signed as a non-drafted free agent in December 2007, struck out six and walked two. He threw 81 of 118 pitches for strikes and faced five batters over the minimum.
The 23-year-old right-hander retired 11 in a row before Jose Felix opened the sixth inning with a single. He followed that hiccup by setting down the next 11 batters before shortstop Jonathan Villar committed a two-out error in the ninth.
"He's got a power fastball, and it might be hard to believe, but he didn't have his best fastball tonight early," Hooks pitching coach Gary Ruby said. "He commanded the strike zone very well, he's got a hard curveball and he was around the plate with it tonight. As it got deeper into the game, the fastball started to come around and he ended the last inning around 94-95 mph. Tonight, the big thing was that he challenged hitters early in the count."
Cisnero has been cruising, compiling a 1.59 ERA over his last five starts. He's allowed 23 hits and struck out 34 over 34 innings during that stretch, going 1-1. Overall, he's 4-6 with a 3.86 ERA in 14 starts.
"He's a big horse and he's really been improving. Every outing has been a little bit better," Ruby said. "At this level, it's confidence. He's always got the weapon, he's got a tremendous arm. His changeup is still a work-in-progress, but his curveball has been the biggest improvement. He's got a fastball that gets on you pretty quick and I think that the addition of off-speed with command is the biggest step."
Most importantly, Cisnero has walked only five batters in his last five starts after issuing 25 free passes in his first seven. A year ago at Class A Advanced Lancaster, he walked 75 while piling up 152 strikeouts over 123 1/3 innings.
"I think it's trust in what he does," said Ruby, who's in his first season with Corpus Christi. "When you come to this league, in particular with these players, the ball flies pretty good and you can get a little tentative early and pitch away from the bat. I think once he figured out that he can throw it in the zone with his stuff, I think that's been the biggest thing, his confidence of throwing the ball in the strike zone. He's been impressive the last five or six starts."
Ruby said he believes that with continued work, Cisnero can make his mark at higher levels.
"He's got a great arm and I think the rest of the way it's the overall command of his three pitches," he added. "The more he throws and the more he gets better at the bottom of the strike zone, the more success he's going to have at the upper levels. He's making great progress."
Carlos Lee was 2-for-4 in his final rehab appearance for the Hooks, while Kody Hinze slugged a two-run homer, his second in as many games.