With a little help from his friends, Francis Martes turned a start that was on the verge of coming apart into one of his best.
The Astros' third-ranked prospect gave up one hit and tied a season high with nine strikeouts over seven innings on Wednesday as Double-A Corpus Christi blanked San Antonio, 3-0, at Nelson Wolff Stadium.
The first inning proved to be the biggest obstacle for Martes (6-4), who walked Franchy Cordero but erased him on a fielder's choice by River Stevens. Catcher Roberto Pena caught Stevens trying to steal second before Martes walked Padres No. 11 prospect Jose Rondon. Nick Schulz grounded out to second to end the inning after 22 pitches.
"He was a little bit out of control mechanically, a little amped up," Hooks pitching coach Dave Borkowski said. "Everything was up in the zone.
"I think that was actually a good confidence-booster, to get through that first inning where he was struggling and still end up with the zero. It may have eased him a little bit, which allowed him to settle in for six solid innings after that."
The next six innings were a complete reversal of the first. MLB.com's No. 41 overall prospect set down the next nine batters in a row and 17 of the final 18. The Missions' only baserunner came on a leadoff single to left by Gabriel Quintana in the fifth.
"After that [first inning], he really settled in," Borkowski said. "He just stayed within himself. His delivery really timed up. This might be the best outing where he actually used all his pitches and really just had hitters off-balance all night.
"He has the ability to do that. That's a pretty good hitting team over there. They're scrappy, they don't give up easy. I think they ran into a bit of a buzzsaw with the stuff he's got and as locked in as he was."
Martes struck out five of the last nine Missions to finish one punchout shy of his career high and run his season total to 89, eighth-most in the Texas League. He fanned a career-best 98 over 101 2/3 innings a season ago.
"The best combo I saw tonight was a couple good, hard sliders down and away with high fastballs," Borkowski said. "He finished about four batters that way, but he actually got strikeouts on all three pitches tonight, which is a huge plus."
The 20-year-old had scuffled out of the Texas League All-Star break with a 5.40 ERA and 1.45 WHIP in his first four starts. After Wednesday's gem, Borkowski said the native of the Dominican Republic continues to grow with each outing.
"I think we all look at how great his stuff is, but we forget that he's only 20 years old," the pitching coach said. "He's still got some growing up to do. He's got to get a little more mature. Sometimes he feels himself a little bit and he tries to do too much and gets in his own way.
"If he can just have that approach of staying within, the sky is the limit for him."
Ryan Thompson pitched around a hit and a walk in the eighth and Chris Cotton gave up a hit while fanning two in the ninth for his second save. It was the Hooks' 11th shutout, one behind Arkansas for the league lead.
Corpus Christi grabbed the lead in the second on a bases-loaded walk by Ramon Laureano. Alejandro Garcia led off the second with his second homer and Antonio Nunez provided insurance with an RBI groundout in the ninth.
San Antonio starter Tim Berry (0-2) surrendered two runs on six hits and four walks while striking out five over 7 1/3 frames.
Alex Kraft is a contributor to MiLB.com. Follow and chat with him on Twitter @Alex_Kraft21