Robert Carson has been one of the stingiest pitchers in the South Atlantic League this season. The 20-year-old left-hander drove that point home Saturday with his first career shutout.
Carson scattered three hits, struck out a season-high eight and walked only one, going the distance for the first time in his three-year professional career as the Savannah Sand Gnats blanked the Lexington Legends, 8-0, in front of 6,113 fans at Applebee's Park.
"Man, it's unreal. It feels like a dream," said Carson, who induced 11 ground-ball outs in what he described as his best pitching performance as a pro. "I had good control and good command of my fastball, moving it in and out. My slider and changeup were also working, but I was mostly putting them away with my changeup."
The Mets' 14th-round pick out in 2007 of Hattiesburg (Miss.) High School has displayed a penchant for shutting down offenses the past two seasons. He went 3-3 with a 1.68 ERA in 11 starts for Rookie-level Kinsport and the Gulf Coast League Mets last year and has been even more impressive against stiffer competition this season.
Carson (7-6), who went three starts without allowing an earned run for Kingsport last August, is 4-0 in his last five outings while yielding three earned runs over 35 2/3 innings.
"I get real determined not to let anybody score," he said. "I make my money not letting people score. I tell myself when guys get on base, 'They're not scoring.'"
Carson's mantra was working Saturday night.
After working around a one-out walk to Christopher Jackson in the opening frame, he set down eight straight batters before Jackson led off the fourth with a single to right field. The 6-foot-3, 220-pound southpaw responded by picking off Jackson before retiring the side.
In the fifth, Albert Cartwright reached on an error by shortstop Imbewer Alvarez, but Carson caught him trying to take third for the final out of that frame.
"That's something I've really been working on with my pitching coach [Marc Valdes}," Carson said. "And tonight I picked off two guys."
Andrew Simunic singled in the sixth and Federico Hernandez ripped a base hit in the eighth for the only other baserunners allowed by Carson, who pitched the Sand Gnats' first nine-inning complete game since Maikel Cleto on May 22, 2008.
The outing was Carson's best since he tossed six one-hit frames against Augusta on April 18. After pitching to a 2.02 ERA in 17 starts for Savannah, the Mississippi native may be ready for a shot at Double-A this summer.
"I hope so, but I can't really say. That's not my position," Carson said. "All I can do is stay humble and keep doing my job. I'm just going to keep pitching like I've been pitching."
Lexington starter Ross Seaton (6-8) tossed the only other nine-inning complete game in the SAL this season on June 1 -- also at Applebee's Park.