A big part of what makes a successful Major Leaguer is his ability to forget about the last at-bat and stay in the moment. In just his third Minor League season, Jose De Leon is getting the handle on that skill.
The Dodgers' seventh-ranked prospect struck out a season-high 12 while allowing only three baserunners over seven innings Tuesday night as Class A Advanced Rancho Cucamonga cruised past Visalia, 7-3, at LoanMart Field.
"I was really locating my fastball, I was commanding it in and out and up and down, and I think that was the key," De Leon said. "It's always fun when things are going your way. We had a plan and I think I executed it pretty good."
The 22-year-old right-hander retired his first eight batters before Fidel Pena singled in the third. He walked Stewart Ijames in the fourth and plunked Jamie Westbrook in the fifth but was perfect the rest of the way.
"When you're commanding the fastball, it opens up for your breaking stuff," De Leon said. "Actually, my changeup is my best second pitch, [and it] wasn't as sharp today, but I was able to throw my slider better. And since I was locating my fastball, I had success striking guys out with the fastball by locations."
Each time De Leon (2-1) allowed a baserunner, he promptly struck out the next batter, something he said he can do because he tries to possess short-term memory on the mound.
"He has a unique ability to think about one pitch at a time," Quakes pitching coach Bill Simas said. "For a guy early in his career, he does a really good job of that so it doesn't affect him when runners get on. He just focuses on the next pitch and goes from there."
The 12 punchouts fell one shy of the team record and were two off the career high he established on Aug. 19 with Class A Great Lakes.
"I think it's a mentality. I have that mentality that I want to strike people out and I just attack the hitters. And if they get in a hole, 0-2, or they get two strikes, my confidence just grows a lot and I'm able to make quality pitches when there's two strikes," De Leon said. "I just enjoy doing it. That's my game. There are pitchers that their game is ground balls or induce contact, but my game is strike people out."
In his second start of the season on April 14, the Puerto Rico native left after four innings due to a mild groin strain. After sitting out for 10 days, De Leon made his next start on April 24 while wearing a wrap, but experienced discomfort and exited after three innings for precautionary reasons. He said he felt much better his last time out and gave up a run on seven hits over six frames in beating Lancaster.
Now completely healthy, De Leon leads the California League with 28 strikeouts and has issued only six walks over 25 innings.
Simas was coaching the Loons when De Leon tied Clayton Kershaw's club mark with 14 strikeouts last summer and has enjoyed watching the 6-foot-2 hurler mature.
"It's just amazing to see where the kid's come from and where he is now. He really knows himself now and he goes out and competes and has weapons that back it up," said Simas, who pitched in the big leagues from 1995-2000. "The growth for him is understanding himself and who he is, also the adjustments that he's able to make, just knowing himself and the way he pitches.
"So he has checkpoints, he makes adjustments for himself in games. So just him for a young guy to know himself pretty well in a year or two, it's pretty special."
Tyler Wampler supported De Leon with his first homer of the season, a two-run shot, while Dillon Moyer also had two RBIs.
D-backs No. 23 prospect Anthony Banda (3-1) started for Visalia and surrendered six runs on seven hits and a walk while striking out five in four frames.