Corbin Martin went through a "rude awakening" after a rocky start in Double-A, but after taking notes and steadily making positive strides, the ninth-ranked Astros prospect admits that was the jolt he needed to right the ship in the Texas League.
On Thursday, Martin tossed a career-high 7 2/3 scoreless innings, allowing two hits while matching a career-best nine punchouts, but Corpus Christi fell to Springfield, 4-0, in 10 innings at Whataburger Field. The right-hander also did not issue a walk for the first time in nine appearances -- seven starts.
Video: Hooks' Martin records ninth strikeout
"I felt really good, [catcher] Jamie Ritchie called a great game behind the plate," Martin said. "I may have only shook [him off] one time. The confidence I have in him and the defense I have behind me is a good feeling. ... It was just attacking the zone with all of the pitches and not throwing the same sequences to each guy -- changing that up in a way.
"There's only one lefty in their lineup, so my attack to righties was going to be a little different than normal. Just getting ahead in the count was the biggest thing, especially against this team. A lot of guys in their lineup can hit -- big power guys. You can't make mistakes."
The 2017 second-round pick earned a promotion from Class A Advanced Buies Creek on May 1 and was tagged for six runs on five hits and a walk in one-third of an inning in his debut against Midland two days later. But since then, Martin has allowed just two earned runs over 21 innings in four subsequent appearances.
"I'm actually glad it happened because I learned a lot from it," Martin said of his first start for the Hooks. "Especially in this league, you can't fall behind guys because they're really good and actually really picky at what they swing at. You can't get away with a lot of pitches. It's attacking early and maybe having a little room to make better pitches, burying balls in the dirt and getting weak contact. That's the thing I noticed watching other pitchers throughout the league is getting ahead in the count."
On Thursday, the 22-year-old tossed 63 of 88 pitches for strikes and retired 11 of the 24 batters he faced on three pitches or fewer. He kept the ball down in the zone effectively, recording eight ground-ball outs to two flyouts.
Martin set down the first 12 hitters of the night until Victor Roache singled to lead off the fifth before taking second on a wild pitch with No. 30 Cardinals prospect Evan Mendoza at the plate. In the stretch for the first time, the right-hander kept the Cardinals off the board by getting Mendoza to bounce into a fielder's choice, Chris Chinea to pop out to second and Granden Goetzman to strike out.
Gameday box score
After a 1-2-3 sixth, 13th-ranked Cardinals prospect Edmundo Sosa lined a base hit to center to start the seventh. Unfettered, Martin fanned Lane Thomas, induced a flyout from Roache and got some help from his batterymate to close out the frame as Ritchie nabbed Sosa at second on a steal attempt.
Transitioning out of the windup didn't lead to any key changes to Martin's gameplan, though he said varying the pace in his delivery made getting out of jams an easier task.
"Especially if there's a guy on, a good runner, being quick to the plate but at the same time being in sequence with what you were doing from the windup and not getting too rushed and making bad pitches," he said. "When they got their runners on today, that was something I was really focusing on, it was being quick and giving our catcher a chance to throw someone out, which he did. That's always a good thing when your catcher has your back."
On the mound in the eighth for the first time as a professional, the Houston native got Mendoza to fly to center and Chinea to ground out to first before turning things over to the bullpen.
"I've kind of been insufficient with pitch counts and have been getting deep into counts. Tonight, I thought I did a good job of getting early contact," Martin said. "The defense was making plays. The last out, our first baseman [Taylor Jones] dives, knocks a ball down and I just have to sit there and smile. This is a good night when your defense is making plays like that. It was a very comforting feeling to get deeper into the game and control the pitch count."
With the start, Martin lowered his Texas League ERA from 5.27 to 3.38. In 19 professional appearances -- 11 starts -- over the past two seasons, the Texas A&M product sports a 3-2 record, a 1.97 ERA and a 0.86 WHIP across 73 innings.
As someone who was raised in Texas and grew up watching Astros games on TV, the homecoming has been nothing short of a dream come true for Martin. He relishes pitching in front of friends and relatives who can attend his outings.
"All of a sudden I'm back in Texas where my family can get to come watch me," he said. "And to be back to a place I've been to multiple times is awesome -- I cannot complain. This team is awesome and just the way the Astros organization has treated me, I'll never be able to complain about that."
Randy Cesar doubled in his fourth game with at least three hits this season, improving his average with the Hooks to .350.
After nine scoreless innings, Springfield broke through with four runs in the 10th. Cardinals No. 23 prospect Tommy Edman, Thomas, Chinea delivered run-scoring singles.