It's taken some time and admittedly been a grind for Cole Winn to get his confidence up and his entire repertoire to come together, but he's seen things turn in his favor in the final month of the regular season. In his August finale on Wednesday night, he produced his best start as a pro.
The fourth-ranked Rangers prospect logged a career-high seven innings, allowing four hits while striking out five, to pitch Class A Hickory to a 7-0 blanking of Columbia at Segra Park.
Video: Hickory's Winn notches fifth K
Winn (4-4) said he had his whole arsenal working, which made him even more confident as he waded deeper into the start. He might not have had a dominant strikeout pitch, but he kept the Fireflies from making hard contact and induced nine ground-ball outs.
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What made things easier was his ability to command the strike zone early in each at-bat, as threw 18 first-pitch strikes to 26 hitters.
"Honestly, I felt like all four pitches -- fastball, slider, curveball and changeup -- were working in different counts," Winn said. "The biggest part for me was starting ahead and getting to two strikes as fast as possible. One thing I think I've struggled with is doing that, so for me to have an outing longer than five, it felt really good."
Taken in the first round of last year's Draft, Winn didn't make his Minor League debut until May 16. Maxed out at five innings, the California prep product hadn't thrown more than 85 pitches in a South Atlantic League start.
But as Winn pounded the zone with 60 strikes on 80 pitches against the Fireflies, the reins were loosened a bit and he pitched into the seventh inning. He concluded his best month of the season, in which he compiled a 2.81 ERA in five starts. That's helped him reduce his overall mark from 5.04 to 4.52.
It's a stark improvement from where Winn started the year as he amassed an ERA over 7.00 through the end of June. Slowly but surely, he's gotten back on track has seen some glimpses of where he can be in the future.
"The first couple of outings, I think it was just nerves and I was all over the place," Winn said. "Really, I wasn't trusting myself, but I got over that, trusted myself and trusted my stuff and it's been nothing but good for me. If I can continue to build on that, it should be fun."
The right-hander got into a jam in the first inning when Nick Conti reached on an infield single and Chase Chambers bounced a grounder up the middle for another base hit. But with two on and two out, Winn retired Hayden Senger on a liner to center field.
Gerson Molina roped a two-out double to left in the second and top Mets prospect Ronny Mauricio singled in the sixth, but those were only other hits against the 19-year-old.
"I think it was just the way my pitches were working tonight, and my defense was making great plays behind me," the Colorado native said. "They were doing great, so it was easy to trust them and trust my stuff and know if contact happened they'd make the plays, so that was awesome for me."
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Back out for the seventh, Winn closed his outing on a high note with his third 1-2-3 inning. It marked his first outing without issuing a walk since June 10 against Greensboro.
"It feels amazing. I feel like it's going in the right direction and I'm getting more comfortable," Winn said. "It's good to see flashes of how it could be in the future and see things keep going up. I think the biggest factor in that is the support I've gotten from everyone, whether it's from my family, coaches, my team -- everyone. Just having a solid support system has been good for me."
Hever Bueno pitched two perfect innings with two strikeouts to finish off the Crawdads' ninth shutout.
Rangers No. 17 prospect Jonathan Ornelas backed up his starter by going 4-for-4 with a walk, an RBI and a run scored.