It's been a long road for Brady Aiken, and while he's not all the way back, he pitched as well on Friday as he has since undergoing Tommy John surgery in 2015.
The Indians' fourth-ranked prospect hurled six scoreless innings as Class A Lake County shut down Peoria, 6-1, at Dozer Park. It was the first time he kept the opposition off the scoreboard since June 25, 2016, when he tossed two shutout frames in his second start in the Rookie-level Arizona League.
Gameday box score
"I've been really close at times this year and I think the downfall for me has been that one big inning where I walk a couple guys and give up a couple hits," Aiken said. "Tonight, I didn't let that happen and avoided that; when guys would get hits and get into scoring position, I wouldn't walk the bases loaded or walk a guy in. The most important thing was being able to induce weak contact. ... It was definitely good knowing that I threw up a couple zeros."
Aiken (2-10) allowed a leadoff single to Kramer Robertson in the first inning but erased him with a double play before walking Danny Hudzina and Brian O'Keefe. He got out of the jam with a fly ball but walked the second batter in the second and allowed a double to Cardinals No. 16 prospect Dylan Carlson before retiring the final two batters.
"[Runners in scoring position] have been something I've been dealing with all year, mostly from walks -- tonight it was more hits," Aiken said. "Nothing really changes with guys on base; especially with guys in scoring position, my job is the same: get outs without letting runs score. Had a couple innings with runners on third, and the most important thing for me in those situations is not to press too much, get weak contact and do the best I can not to give up any runs."
The 2015 first-round pick gave up two singles in the third but got J.R. Davis to ground into a double play. Runners reached third against him in each of the next two innings, but Aiken was able to work out of trouble both times, getting another double play to end the fifth against O'Keefe.
The 20-year-old left-hander saved his best for last, working his first clean frame in the sixth by inducing three straight groundouts. He threw 94 pitches, one shy of his career high, and completed six innings for the sixth time in 18 starts this year.
"I was a little inconsistent in the first two innings, but after that I was pretty good and able to lock it in and be more consistent and repeatable with my delivery," Aiken said. "The thing for me is just trying not to let the game speed up, so I was trying to focus on controlling what I can control. A few calls didn't go my way and I didn't get annoyed by that ... just threw strikes and the defense behind me made some great plays."
Aiken's record and 4.10 ERA may not be pretty, but he's shown improvement over his last four starts, allowing six earned runs over 21 1/3 innings to lower his ERA by almost half a run as he continues to navigate through his first full Minor League season.
"Being able to stay healthy and stay on top of my routines has been a key factor for me," Aiken said. "I've been working on some mechanical stuff with the coaches and it's been progressing forward each and every start. I'm in a good position where my mechanics are repeatable now, and I'm not worrying about anything in the past and moving forward."
The 6-foot-4, 205-pound California native's past includes being drafted No. 1 overall by the Astros in 2014, but he didn't sign after concerns arose about the health of his pitching elbow. Aiken underwent Tommy John surgery the following March, was drafted 17th overall by Cleveland in 2015 and finally debuted in the AZL on June 20, 2016.
"I would say I've been through a lot as a late teen and now a 20-year-old," Aiken said. "I grew up well and had a great family and great supporters. Basically just trying to stay as humble as I can and go out there and do the best I can to help the team win in any way. I've struggled a bit, learned a lot and progressed from the start of the year."
Indians No. 20 prospect Logan Ice went 2-for-3 and reached base three times, while 27th-ranked prospect Conner Capel ripped a two-run triple to center in the seventh and Mitch Longo slugged a three-run homer in the ninth.
Frederis Parra (1-3) allowed one run on five hits and a walk with two strikeouts in 5 2/3 innings for the Chiefs, who got three doubles from Carlson.