Heading into his start on Tuesday night, Joey Maher wanted to make sure he didn't issue any free passes.
The Yankees prospect recorded a career-high 11 strikeouts and did not walk a batter over six innings, pitching Class A Charleston to a 9-0 blanking of Lexington at Joseph P. Riley Ballpark.
"I tried to be aggressive and I got my curveball working for me, so that really helped. I think that really helped me get the strikeouts," said Maher, who gave up four hits. "I think I pretty much had the same mentality [I always do], I just had a little better execution of strikeouts when I needed to."
In front of his parents, Jim and Maura, Maher (4-4) allowed three hits over the first two innings, then settled in and did not yield another until the sixth.
"I was just trying to establish a strike zone, get ahead. Hits happen, it's just a matter of keep moving forward and keep pitching," he said. "I think I just started finding my release point and started commanding the fastball to my glove side, which helps a lot. So that started to open up more options deeper in the count."
One of those hitless frames included punchouts. After striking out Brandon Downes and Chase Vallot to start the fifth, Maher fanned Samir Duenez but threw a wild third strike that enabled the No. 8 hitter to reach first safely. The 23-year-old kept his composure and whiffed Mike Hill to end the inning.
"I don't think I've ever done that before, so I'm happy. But it happens ... wild pitch," he said. "I'm glad I got the next guy out."
Maher worked around Corey Toups' leadoff single in the sixth to close out his ninth scoreless outing of the season. The New Hampshire native has bounced between the bullpen and the rotation, but it looks like he'll remain a starter.
"I enjoy being a starter and I understand that it doesn't really matter when you're pitching, as long as you're getting guys out. So whenever I'm needed, I'm happy to pitch," Maher said. "There's advantages to both, so I'm just focusing on what situation I'm in, whatever that might be. There's a difference and my approach changes a little bit, but either way, I'm glad to have experience in both."
The 6-foot-5 hurler said he tries to pitch to contact more when he's a starter in an effort to keep his pitch count down. In his last five starts, he's held South Atlantic League foes to two earned runs on 21 hits while notching 29 strikeouts over 28 innings.
"I've been trying to build off of what's been working for me and still figuring out some things. [Tuesday], I feel like I had my best stuff and some things clicked, so I just wanted to continue to build on that," Maher said. "I really just try to keep things as simple as possible."
First baseman Bo Thompson sparked the RiverDogs at the plate, going 4-for-5 with a solo homer, two doubles and three runs scored.
Kelsie Heneghan is a contributor to MiLB.com. Follow her on Twitter @Kelsie_Heneghan.