De Leon honors his mother on mound

Righty fans 12, Bellinger homers in third straight game for Quakes

Jose De Leon leads the California League with 50 strikeouts this season. (Steve Saenz/Rancho Cucamonga Quakes)

By Kelsie Heneghan / MiLB.com | May 10, 2015 11:15 PM ET

They say behind every great man is a greater woman. Well, literally behind Jose De Leon on Sunday was the word "Mami" -- Spanish for "Mom" -- since he wrote that on the back of the mound.

With mother Ady in mind, the Dodgers' No. 7 prospect struck out 12 for the second straight start as Class A Advanced Rancho Cucamonga topped High Desert, 3-1, on Mother's Day at Heritage Field.

"It feels great, especially being on Mother's Day," he said. "I called my mom and I told her that this game, I was pitching for her. It was pretty special, especially not having her by my side because she's in Puerto Rico. I think that's a great gift that I can give her and she will really appreciate it.

"She's very sentimental and I think she cried. She loves when I'm happy and she loves when I'm doing well. I think they're very proud of me regardless of what the outcome is."

De Leon (3-1) held the Mavericks to a run on five hits over seven innings. But his stellar start almost didn't happen.

While warming up in the bullpen prior to the game, the 22-year-old right-hander seemed tight. He didn't think he had his best stuff.

"I felt since I didn't have my normal velocity, I think I was more concerned and more focused on getting ahead in the count and try to get guys out early instead of striking everybody out," De Leon said. "But from the third inning on, I felt like normal and I was able to strike people out.

"I knew I had to have great command of my fastball and work with my offspeed. My changeup was really good. I think I just battled my way through the lineup."

He leads the California League with 50 strikeouts this season, while only giving up six walks in six starts. He didn't issue any walks Sunday.

The Puerto Rico native's teammate, Cody Bellinger has enjoyed watching him shut players down in the Arizona League in 2013, in the Pioneer League last year and now in the California League. The Dodgers' No. 20 prospect said he hasn't seen a pitcher dominate like De Leon since high school.

"He's been great all year. He pounds the zone every pitch and you know he's going to throw every offspeed for a strike," the first baseman said. "He's a talented kid, so it's good playing defense behind him ... keeps good tempo, so it's fun.

"I've seen it for a couple years, and from first base, you can see what pitch is coming so you're just ready for the awkward swing."

With a pink bat that said "Mom" in his hand, Bellinger went yard for the third consecutive game. He belted a solo shot in the second inning.

"I was just honestly looking for a good pitch with the first at-bat. First at-bat, you're just trying to see something good, get the rhythm of the game going," the 19-year-old said. "[Richelson Pena] threw a first-pitch fastball inside ... [and it was the] first inning, so I had a good feeling another one was coming. He threw it inside and I just got the barrel to it.

"It feels good," he added of his recent run. "I hope I can keep it going, but it's still a long season so you never know what can happen."

Along with the power surge, Bellinger has a seven-game hitting streak with four homers and nine RBIs over that time. The 2013 fourth-round pick credits adjustments made with hitting coach Mike Eylward for what he considers the best stretch of his career. The two have been working on bringing Bellinger's hands inside the ball and waiting a little longer before he swings.

"He's unreal. He's a very impressive guy and I think what separates him is his makeup for a 19-year-old guy is really good," De Leon said of his teammate. "He started to hit not as good and he kept on going. He didn't let the at-bats get to his head.

"If he doesn't do it with the bat, he'll do it with the first-base mitt or in the outfield. The guy's a true athlete; I think he's going to be a Gold Glover in the big leagues."

Pena (0-3) allowed two runs on four hits while striking out three over 7 2/3 frames.

Kelsie Heneghan is a contributor to MiLB.com. Follow her on Twitter @Kelsie_Heneghan. This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.

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