Matthew Heidenreich seems to have a knack for raising his game when the competition is at its toughest.
Paired off against top Red Sox pitching prospect Matt Barnes on Thursday, the White Sox's right-hander scattered four hits and a walk while fanning eight over seven innings in Class A Advanced Winston-Salem's 1-0 shutout of Salem.
It was his second unblemished start in a row, after going toe-to-toe with Myrtle Beach's Cody Buckel -- the Carolina League ERA leader -- for eight shutout frames May 17. Between the two outings, he's thrown 15 straight scoreless innings.
"I feel like I keep getting matched up against these All-Stars," joked Heidenreich. "It's really fun, it keeps the blood flowing. I love it. It's always fun to be matched up against a pitcher like that. That's what you're here for, that's why you're pitching."
After getting rouched up for 16 runs over three starts from April 21-May 1, the 2009 fourth-round Draft pick hasn't allowed more than three earned runs in any of his subsequent four outings, a stretch that includes two other starts against Lynchburg's J.R. Graham, a top-10 Braves prospect and top Red Sox lefty Drake Britton.
Heidenreich credited a stronger emphasis on his changeup and better command of his slider, in particular, for allowing him to settle into pitching against Carolina League lineups lately. He spent all of last season with Class A Kannapolis, going 10-10 with a 4.32 ERA while striking out 101 batters and walking just 31 in 154 1/3 innings spanning 27 South Atlantic League starts.
"I felt like it was a leap, a needed leap," said the 21-year-old of the jump to Winston-Salem. "I feel like I'm getting comfortable. I've seen the teams we're facing now, I've tried to pay attention to the game and talk to my pitching coach any time I can. My catcher [Michael Blanke] is real smart. He pays attention to the hitters, watches them, watches how guys take pitches and what they're swinging at.
"I feel like we're on a good rhythm. He and [backup catcher Miguel Gonzalez] help a lot."
The California native's strong run has resulted in his ERA dropping down to 3.32 over 57 innings for the Dash, good for 10th in the Carolina League. Heidenreich (4-1) has 45 strikeouts and nine walks in his nine starts, while also proving he can handle a hefty workload. His 57 innings are tied for second on the circuit and he already has one complete game under his belt this season.
"I've been trying to go as deep as I can. The wins are a bonus, I've just been trying to keep my team in the game," he said. "I want to give them the opportunity to win. I want to continue what I'm doing, I really feel like we're on a good little roll here."
Reliever Kyle Bellamy completed the shutout, throwing two perfect innings with two strikeouts for his second save of the year.
Third baseman Juan Silverio doubled in Nick Ciolli in the sixth for the only run of the game.