Edwar Colina believes that his slider is the key to his success.
The cut he can generate with the pitch, and his ability to throw it for strikes lets him work off his fastball and be deceptive enough to put batters away. So in his bullpen sessions heading into his start on Wednesday, the 22-year-old focused solely on refining that pitch.
The result was the best start of his professional career.
The Twins prospect worked around a hit and a walk to face one batter over the minimum over eight innings as Class A Advanced Fort Myers blanked Clearwater, 1-0, at Spectrum Field. Colina struck out nine and lowered his ERA to 2.63.
Gameday box score
"My slider was the difference for me today, this was the best it was ever working," he said. "I've been really working on that, getting more movement and better control of it, so I can use it off my fastball. I was able to use the heater to get ahead early in the count and then finish guys off with the slider. It helped me stay in control all game."
The 22-year-old, who opened the year on the injured list, made his season debut on May 6 against Charlotte. He showed little signs of rust as he tied his career high with 10 punchouts over six one-run frames in his second start on May 14 at Bradenton. Colina (4-2) followed that up with six shutout innings against the Marauders -- his only other scoreless outing in 2019.
"I hurt my back lifting weights and I was shut down for a while," said Colina, who missed five weeks. "I didn't want to push too hard and make anything worse, so we went slow. But ever since I came back, I feel amazing."
And although the Venezuela native said he formulated a game plan similar to the one he implemented when he fanned 10 Marauders, he believes he was even better this time around.
"I could honestly say today was my best day this year," he said before chuckling. "I remember that game and I felt really good then, too, but today was just different. The adrenaline was going, there were a lot of people in the stands. ... I was just really feeling the game."
In front of 10,055, Colina retired the first eight batters he faced -- whiffing half of them -- before 20th-ranked Phillies prospect Daniel Brito connected on a first-pitch fastball in the third and laced a double off the wall in right field. A wild pitch moved Brito to third, but Colina struck out Matt Vierling on a 1-2 slider that froze the Notre Dame product.
"I had kind of a long first inning," he said of the 17-pitch opening frame. "And I just remember when I came back out for the second I was just thinking, 'OK, that's it, just go get outs right away. Get early contact or put guys away quick.' And that's what I did."
The only other blemish on Colina's outing was a six-pitch walk to Brito, who was erased three pitches later when Vierling grounded into an inning-ending double play in the sixth.
The 5-foot-11, 182-pound right-hander needed only four pitches to navigate the seventh and 15 pitches to complete his final two frames.
"I was laughing with the guys when we came back in after [the four-pitch inning]," he said. "Everyone was like, 'Are we hitting again already?'"
Fort Myers needed every bit of Colina's effort as Clearwater starter Julian Garcia (5-5) matched zeros through six frames. It wasn't until Twins No. 29 prospect Michael Helman took the right-hander deep to left leading off the seventh that Garcia blinked.
2019 MiLB include
Garcia was pulled after allowing one run on a pair of hits and three walks with four strikeouts in seven frames.
Being thrust into a pitchers' duel never rattled Colina.
"Being honest, I didn't even think about it. I was just playing my game," he said. "I can't control what they do, I can just control my game -- and that's what I did. And I believe in my team. We've got a lot of good hitters here, so I knew at some point something was going to happen and when [Helman] hit that ball out I was really loud, man. Honestly, I was waiting for that and when it happened, I knew it would be all we needed."
Southpaw Zach Neff nailed down his first Florida State League save after walking one and fanning one in the ninth.