Prior to his start on Tuesday, Max Duval got the perfect seat to watch his opponet. While his teammates played Game 1 of a doubleheader, the right-hander took notes from the stands behind home plate.
"Just so I can get a view of the hitters in the box. Are they open? Are they closed? Are they attacking fastballs in or breaking balls away? Things of that nature," he said. "For me, it was just these are what I'm seeing from the hitter's standpoint, these are the weaknesses that I look to exploit. And from there, it's executing that game plan when you get on the mound and not second-guessing it."
Duvall was able to execute, coming within three outs of a perfect game, as Class A Greensboro earned a split of the twinbill with a 4-1 win over Hickory at L.P. Frans Stadium. He ended up allowing a run on two hits while striking out seven in the seven-inning complete game.
Just a few weeks ago, Duval was pitching in the independent Frontier League, where he compiled a 2.28 ERA and 113 strikeouts over 87 innings before signing with the Marlins. Because he joined the D-backs last summer out of the same league, the 26-year-old said he knew it was going to be a "hectic" transition that takes time.
"It's nothing out of the ordinary, but it is a little different mind-set, coming out of the Frontier League," he said. "You have to prove yourself to show the team that, 'Hey, this isn't a wasted investment. I'm really here to compete for a job and I think I can do it.'"
While fine-tuning his cutter, Duval had a tough organizational debut on Aug. 3, surrendering five runs on six hits and a walk with five strikeouts over five innings against Kannapolis. He said he wasn't "super happy" with how that start went and identified his cutter and fastball location as areas that needed improvement.
"I do a lot of mental conditioning and that's what I'm training for is, flush everything that happened in the past; it doesn't affect the next pitch," the University of Hawaii product said. "As long as I can go out and [take it] one pitch at a time, the only pitch that matters is the next one."
With that mind-set and his pregame preparation, Duval retired the first 19 Crawdads he faced. He leaned on catcher Jarett Rindfleisch and said his defense was key in his dominant start.
"I didn't do a great job of getting ahead early," he said. "There were some, they weren't high-stress [situations], but I went deep into the counts to a lot of guys early in the game and finally found the rhythm and that was when I was able to work the cutter and the fastball off of each other and get guys out in front, some weak contact and get deep into counts to induce a couple of strikeouts as well."
After the fifth, Duval noticed that his teammates were keeping their distance. Realizing what was going on, the 6-foot-5 hurler focused on throwing strikes, thinking that if he was going to lose the perfect game, it wasn't going to be on a walk.
With one out in the seventh, Rangers top prospect Leody Taveras made solid contact on the cutter that had been working all night and knocked it to left field. Duval said he thought Aaron Knapp would catch it, but the ball fell in for a double.
"He just barely missed it, it was just out of reach," Duval noted. "At that point, there's not much I can do -- it's take a deep breath and go right after the next guy 'cause at that point, it doesn't really matter."
Duval retired Andretty Cordero on a groundout that moved Taveras to third, but Alex Kowalczyk knocked a single off the pitcher's glove to spoil the shutout before Charles Leblanc grounded out to end the game.
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"It's just getting right back to where I was. Coming out of the Frontier League, I was having some success there, going deep into ballgames and inducing some weak contact and getting the wins that the team needed," Duval said. "And that's where that first start [with Greensboro] was like, 'OK, you're human now, you're making mistakes, you gotta fine-tune that to get back to where I know I can be.'
"And that's what this start did for me, was getting back on track and going, 'All right, this is a good starting point, now prove yourself and keep moving forward and take this preparedness into every start and get dialed in for the next one.'"
First baseman Eric Gutierrez produced all of the Grasshoppers' offense behind Duval with a three-run homer and a bases-loaded walk.
The Crawdads won the opener, 4-1, as Kowalcyzk went 3-for-3 with a pair of doubles and two RBIs.