Strikeouts can be a double-edged sword for a pitcher, representing both the most sure-fire and taxing ways to record an out.
Almost always, however, it's better to have more than fewer. For Danny Hultzen on Friday, a career low in strikeouts coincided with his longest and cleanest outing as a pro.
The No. 2 overall pick in last year's Draft fired a career-high seven shutout innings, limiting Tennessee to two hits and pitching the Double-A Jackson Generals to a 2-1 win.
Hultzen struck out two after fanning no fewer than four in any of his previous six starts.
"I think it's one of those things that just happens," he said. "I'm not worried about striking people out; my focus is to attack the hitters and not fall behind guys, issue as many walks. I was just trying to do that tonight."
A week after issuing a career-high seven free passes, the Mariners' top prospect walked four. That's one area with which he's not satisfied.
"That's something I'm always working around. Lately, it's been tough for me to throw strikes and get ahead, wind up walking a lot of guys," he said. "That's still something I need to work on, get better at. But I'm feeling better about it."
Hultzen's pure stuff has proved difficult enough for opposing hitters, as the University of Virginia product saw his ERA fall to 1.91. That ranks third in the Southern League, where he's struck out 36 while walking 23 over 37 2/3 innings.
On Friday, he said he felt he'd been making progress with harnessing his command.
"I thought it was better than it has been in the past, but it's still not quite there," Hultzen said. "I still need to get a lot better at commanding all my pitches, which I've been struggling with. I think I'm getting better at it."
In lieu of striking out more Smokies, Hultzen (3-3) tied a season high by inducing eight ground balls. He credited his defense with helping him turn those grounders into outs and allowing him to work so deep into the game.
"I was just pounding the strike zone. I think I was able to get a lot of ground balls and fly balls early in the count, which was a huge factor," the Maryland native said. "I was trusting my pitches and the defense behind me did a great job making every play behind me, and [Jesus Sucre] threw out a couple from behind the dish.
"It was a productive outing, so I feel better about it. Good team win."
Sucre also figured prominently offensively for the Generals, going 3-for-4 with a double and an RBI. Denny Almonte drove in the other run.
Tennessee threatened in the ninth, but Bobby LaFromboise recorded back-to-back strikeouts with runners at second and third to record his first save of the season.