One could argue that the best start of Matt Esparza's career had its roots five days earlier.
"I kind of found my breaking ball later on in my last start," he said. "I've been working on it with my pitching coach, Steve McCatty, and it got better tonight and worked well off my fastball."
The Indians prospect gave up one hit and recorded a career-high 10 strikeouts over six scoreless innings Saturday, pitching Class A Lake County to a 4-1 win over Great Lakes at Dow Diamond.
Esparza's night didn't get off to the kind of start that would indicate he was on his way to the best outing of his career. After walking Nick Dean leading off the first, the 21-year-old right-hander uncorked a wild pitch. But he struck out Brendon Davis and escaped the inning unscathed.
"I felt good from the beginning, even though I walked the first hitter I saw," Esparza said. "It was just about settling in and getting a feel for the mound and what I was working with. I wasn't super-alarmed because I still felt OK with what I was doing. Even in that at-bat, I made some good pitches that could have gone either way."
The 2015 14th-round pick settled in from that point and didn't allow a hit until Omar Estevez knocked a one-out single in the fifth. It turned out to be the only hit he yielded all night and just the third he's given up in his last two starts.
Esparza's sixth and final inning was his best of the night, with the UC Irvine product striking out the side on 13 pitches.
"It was a good way to end a good outing," the 6-foot-2 right-hander said. "I typically feel better as I go on. I know you have more energy early on, but for me, I feel like the more I pitch the more I feel comfortable in my delivery. And as you get deeper in the game, it's more about executing your pitches."
After allowing nine runs over 3 1/3 innings in his Midwest League debut against Fort Wayne on April 10, Esparza sports a 3.63 ERA and 1.09 WHIP in 11 starts. He said it took some time to adjust to the long season, but with the help of McCatty, who spent nine seasons with the Oakland A's from 1977-85, Esparza is starting to find his groove.
"I've been proud of the routine that I've been on, not just the routine before my start but the stuff I've been doing between each outing and the way I've brought energy to that process," he said. "[McCatty] has so much knowledge about pitching and has seen every level of this game, so he's done such a good job with our staff."
Dominic DeMasi came on in the seventh and allowed a hit and a walk with one strikeout in two scoreless innings. Erick Algarin allowed a run on one hit in the ninth before closing the door for Lake County.
Indians No. 8 prospect Francisco Mejia went 2-for-3 with an RBI for the Captains.