Gonsalves has no trouble with the curve
Stephen Gonsalves said he didn't have command of his curveball all season until Monday night. His latest outing showed how he could be even more of a threat to opposing lineups.
Minnesota's No. 6 prospect allowed two hits over 6 1/3 scoreless innings en route to Class A Advanced Fort Myers' 10-6 victory over Bradenton at McKechnie Field. Gonsalves (4-1) tied his season high with eight strikeouts to win his third straight start.
And it all started with his rediscovered hook.
"I had my curveball working, which was really the first time this season I've had it," the left-hander said. "Because of that, I was able to mix it in 25 to 30 percent of the time. It helped me continuously get ahead and allowed me to keep the slider in my back pocket all night. I only used that pitch twice and both were strikeouts.
"My biggest plus was getting ahead of guys. I think I started with a strike to [16 of the 24] batters I faced with my fastball and curve. I was just mixing things up well and had all four pitches working."
It's been a season of continued growth for the 21-year-old, who posted a 2.61 ERA in 15 starts for the Miracle last season. Returning to Fort Myers in 2016 was anything but a disappointment for Gonsalves.
"I wasn't surprised to be back," he said. "The Twins have a lot of talent in the system, especially in the pitching department. Already [Tyler] Duffey and [Jose] Berrios have been called up to Minnesota. There's a ton of talent. It's all about the process and working our way forward."
The Twins' fourth-round pick in the 2013 First-Year Player Draft took the mound against Bradenton armed with a 2-0 lead. He walked Kevin Newman to start the game, but erased the Miracle shortstop on a 4-6-3 double play. Gonsalves surrendered a single to Jordan Luplow, but retired Jerrick Sulter to end the first. That began a stretch during which the 6-foot-5 hurler retired 17 of 19.
Gonsalves had his strikeout pitch working too, collecting all eight of his whiffs between the second and fifth innings. He was lifted after issuing back-to-back walks with one out in the seventh, his third and fourth free passes of the night.
"I got a little tired there," the San Diego native said. "With our offense on fire tonight, we had some long innings. We had a quick one in the fifth but another long one in the sixth, so I was sitting too long sometimes. But I certainly won't complain about the offensive support. They've been great all year."
So has Gonsalves. Since surrendering a three-run homer to the fifth batter he faced in his first start, he has allowed just two runs in 36 1/3 innings. He has given up no more than one run in five of his six starts to lower his ERA to 1.21.
"I've never had a stretch like this before," Gonsalves said. "I'm feeling good and feeling confident. I have a great team behind me who puts up a bunch of runs, which takes the pressure off. We have a strong team and we're going to go far. It's been fun."
Fort Myers scored 10 unanswered runs before Bradenton rallied late. Logan Wade went 3-for-5 with a double, two RBIs and two runs scored, while Trey Vavra added three hits, including his third home run of the season.
Bradenton starter Alex McRae (2-2) allowed four runs -- three earned -- on five hits and one walk with three strikeouts in four innings.
Michael Avallone is a contributor to MiLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @MavalloneMiLB.