There aren't many snowballs during a Mississippi summer, but David Hale admitted he created a few during his first three months with the Braves' Double-A affiliate in the Magnolia State.
"Sometimes earlier in the year, I'd let things get to me pretty easily," said the right-handed pitcher, who has allowed six or more runs in three starts this season. "I would let guys on, and then a few hits would turn into, say, five runs in one inning."
The solution? Stay calm, even in the tough times.
"It was kind of an obvious thing," he added. "But it was something that was supported by my pitching coach [Mike Alvarez], and it was something I tried to implement immediately."
The results of the mental fix have been just as instant.
Hale scattered four hits and three walks over seven shutout innings Friday in Mississippi's 1-0 loss to Chattanooga. With the performance, the 24-year-old extended his scoreless-inning streak to 15 after he didn't allow a run over right frames in his last start -- an 8-2 win over Birmingham.
Hale's theory was put to the test in Friday's fifth inning. After retiring 10 of the previous 11 Lookouts he faced, the right-hander -- who employs a fastball, slider and changeup -- allowed a double to Brahiam Maldonado and Nick Buss' single to put runners on the corners without anybody out.
On April 8 (1 2/3IP, 6H, 6ER, 3BB) or April 23 (5 2/3IP, 9H, 7ER, 2BB), the scoreless streak would have gone kaput. Instead, something else entirely happened.
Hale jammed Pedro Baez, who hit a soft grounder to the left side of the infield. Third baseman Joe Leonard looked Maldonado back to the base before throwing Buss out at second.
At that moment, Maldonado streaked toward home. Philip Gosselin pivoted at second base and fired home to catcher Christian Bethancourt. All of a sudden, Maldonado was caught in a rundown and was tagged out by Leonard for the unconventional 5-4-2-5 double play.
The always-dangerous scenario turned into the relatively harmless runner at first with two outs, thanks to one weak groundball.
"I don't think I've ever seen one like that," Hale said. "I gave all three of them a big old high-five afterward. It was amazing. ... I'll probably never see it again."
The hurler struck out Matt Wallach on four pitches to end the fifth. He allowed two runners on in the sixth and one more in the seventh, but escaped both innings unscathed.
Thanks to his recent run of success, the Georgia native has improved to 6-3 on the season with a 3.52 ERA -- the first time that number has been below 4.00 since April 18. He was named to the Southern League South Division All-Star team, his first All-Star selection in four professional seasons.
"I really didn't know what to expect," Hale said. "I was nervous, and all I wanted to do was stay sharp. But then I got to a point where I said to myself, 'Just enjoy this. It doesn't count for anything. Go have fun with it.'"
The former Princeton pitcher entered in the third inning of the contest June 19 and allowed one hit and struck out a batter in his one frame of work. His explanation for his success for the winning South side was, perhaps, unsurprising.
"I was extremely calm," he said. "I was just trying to pitch well for the rest of the guys and have fun with it. It was a bonus that I came out and didn't allow a run."
And with that scoreless frame kicking off his second-half streak of 15 shutout innings, Hale noted he's keeping his goals for the rest of the season as simple as his mindset.
"Just do better than the first half," he said.
Maldonado hit a home run off Brent Leach with one out in the top of the ninth to give Chattanooga the 1-0 win. The Braves reliever struck out five of the eight Lookouts he faced over two innings.