The move from Pullman, Wash., and the Pac-10 to Greensboro, N.C., and the South Atlantic League is a long one in every sense, but Marlins left-handed pitching prospect Adam Conley has made it look like an afternoon stroll. He picked up his second win in two professional starts on Wednesday, leading the Grasshoppers to a 5-1 win over Lakewood.
"Since the season began, I've been trying to implement a routine," said Conley, the Marlins' No. 7 prospect, about the transition. "Since I got down to Greensboro, I've been welcomed by great people and a great facility. We have a team with great camaraderie, and that's really put me at ease and made me comfortable."
His comfort led directly to his opponents' discomfort, as the 6-foot-3 left-hander with mid-90s gas fanned eight batters over six innings. Conley showed particular dominance in the middle frames once a ground-ball double play erased a potential first-inning rally for the BlueClaws.
"I think the guys getting on and everything, those were just the results," Conley said, who allowed a hit and a walk in the first inning. "I guess you could say I settled down a little bit. For the most part, I was making the pitches I was trying to make all day. I felt like I got into a groove a little bit, and the game went smoother for me."
Smooth indeed. Starting with Maikel Franco's double play to end the first, Conley retired 14 of 15 batters, including six on strikes. The only batter who reached in that stretch was Gauntlett Edlemire, who did so on a throwing error by 'Hoppers first baseman Ryan Rieger. Conley promptly picked off the runner, with Rieger throwing to second to nab Edlemire and atone for his miscue.
"Two things are always key for me -- move the fastball to both sides of the plate and throw secondary pitches for strikes," said Conley, who has improved his slider and changeup with the support of the Marlins organizational pitching instructors. "I've had great support from the Marlins staff and pitching coordinator Wayne Rosenthal. He's helped me to clean my mechanics up to make them more repeatable."
Along with the support from his organization and from the Greensboro community, his teammates supported Conley on Wednesday with four runs in the first three innings.
Rieger's one-out double in the bottom of the first scored Alfredo Lopez, and Rieger later came around on a two-out single from Matthew Smith to give Conley all the support he'd need.
Greensboro added two more in the third as Josh Adams led off with a single. That was followed by a Smith double and a Ryan McIntyre single that scored both baserunners. The Lakewood starter, Ervis Manzanillo, would not make it through the frame, allowing four runs on seven hits and four walks in 2 2/3 innings. The 20-year-old from Venezuela has now walked seven in 5 2/3 innings to start his second go-round with the 'Claws.
Lakewood finally got to Conley for a run in the sixth when Brian Pointer's sacrifice fly scored Kyrell Hudson. But an error and a passed ball helped make the run possible, so Conley has still yet to allow an earned run in now 11 innings. He got the win on Friday against Lexington, throwing five scoreless innings while striking out seven and walking one. He struck out eight Wednesday to give him 15 strikeouts, a total that leads the South Atlantic League through Wednesday afternoon's games.
It's no surprise that Conley has enjoyed his early success.
"I absolutely love professional baseball and the schedule and my workload," he said. "Everything is just great. I've been working a long time to get here. I'm blessed that a team gave me a chance."
He doesn't even mind life on the road.
"I've known for a long time that you're going to spend a lot of time on the road. I'm just embracing those things and enjoying myself," said Conley, who's joined by his wife, Kendall, a welcome distraction on long road trips.
All in all, the transition from college to the pros couldn't be going better for Conley. It's his second transition of note, after moving from reliever to starter at Washington State before his final season with the Cougars.
"There was an injury to one of the starters who was a returner from the year before," said Conley on why he moved to the rotation. "There were a couple of guys that fall that just showed better promise and stuff from the pen. I told my coach that I would work hard at whatever role I was at. I was honored to be given the ball on Friday night," typically the night when a college team's best pitcher takes the hill.
Conley started 16 games in the spring of 2011, completing two of them. His 3.50 ERA in a challenging Pac-10 -- now Pac-12 -- impressed scouts enough for the lefty to jump to the second round of last June's First-Year Player Draft. The Marlins selected him 72nd overall, and he signed at the deadline, making one late-season appearance in the Gulf Coast League, also a scoreless one.