Despite entering Thursday with a 2.53 ERA, Yency Almonte wasn't happy with his first two starts of the season. His third outing provided some much-needed satisfaction.
The Rockies' No. 16 prospect struck out 10 while scattering four hits over seven innings to help Double-A Hartford to a 1-0 win over Harrisburg. The victory marked the Yard Goats' first victory at new Dunkin' Donuts Park after five consecutive losses.
Video: Hartford's Almonte records 10th strikeout of game
"I was just trying to stay within myself," the right-hander said. "In my first couple of starts, I was trying to do too much. My key this time was to control what I can control and pitch how I know how to pitch, and it worked out."
Almonte (1-0) struck out the side in the first inning to set the tone. He got Nationals No. 5 prospect Andrew Stevenson swinging, Zach Collier looking and 14th-ranked Drew Ward swinging.
"[I wanted to] get ahead early, attack with my fastball and have them try to [make] weak contact while using my offspeed when necessary," the 22-year-old said. "A big key was my changeup -- I worked on it in Spring Training and didn't have the feel for it, but today I was able to trust it and throw it when I needed to."
Almonte didn't allow a runner to reach scoring position until the fifth when Yadiel Hernandez led off with a single and advanced to second two batters later on a balk. The 6-foot-3, 205-pound hurler got Osvaldo Abreu to fly out to right before striking out Stephen Perez to end the frame.
"The guy got on second with the balk and once I let him there, I tried to slow it down, get them in certain positions and make quality pitches," Almonte said. "Thankfully, they came out the way I wanted them to come out."
Harrisburg managed one more hit off Almonte -- a leadoff single by opposing pitcher Erick Fedde, the Nationals' No. 2 prospect, in the sixth -- but Collier hit into an inning-ending double play two batters later. Almonte struck out the final two batters he faced in seventh.
"I was able to establish the fastball early in the game, and once I [started] seeing them the second and third time through the lineup, I started pitching them backwards -- showing offspeed, keeping them off balance and finishing with my fastball," he said.
The Miami native reached only three three-ball counts -- finishing two with strikeouts. Almonte even managed to slow down the scorching-hot Stevenson, who entered Thursday with consecutive five-hit games by striking him out swinging three times.
"I saw he was hot and knew I had to attack with my best stuff, which was my fastball," he said. "He's been hitting a lot of balls middle-away and getting extended, so I tried to get into his hands and show offspeed away late and it worked."
Almonte, who held opposing batters to a .231 average in 27 starts for Class A Advanced Modesto and Hartford in 2016, sports a .185 batting average against through three starts and has 21 strikeouts in 17 2/3 innings this year. While his fastball can reach the high-90s, he understands there's no need to consistently dial it up to that speed.
"I just [want to] build off today and see that I don't have to overdo it and throw 98 every pitch," Almonte said. "I can just cruise and like pitching coach [Dave Burba] told me, just establish down [in the zone] early, [throw] lots of strikes, and when I'm ahead in the count, I can rear back."
Josh Fuentes delivered the lone RBI of the game with a two-out triple -- the game's only extra-base hit -- in the fourth. The 24-year-old third baseman finished the game 2-for-3 and was the only player on either side to record multiple hits.
Fedde (1-1) gave up one run on five hits with three walks and eight strikeouts in seven innings.