Astros' Bielak taking off at Triple-A

Houston's No. 12 prospect fans nine over seven one-hit innings

Brandon Bielak has struck out 60 batters in 60 2/3 innings between Double-A and Triple-A in 2019. (Joshua Tjiong/MiLB.com)

By Sam Dykstra / MiLB.com | June 24, 2019 6:00 PM

It's a natural reaction to the Minors' highest level. Brandon Bielak admitted he was trying to rush things so much that it was affecting his delivery after his arrival to Triple-A Round Rock last month. 

"I can get too quick and rushed on the mound sometimes," he said. "It's kinda been that way ever since I got here. I just needed to calm myself down, take a few breaths, get back to where I need to be."

Bielak is definitely back on track after his best Pacific Coast League outing. The Astros' No. 12 prospect tied a season high with nine strikeouts and allowed just one hit and one walk over seven scoreless innings Monday to lead the Express to a 6-4 win over Iowa at Principal Park.

It was the longest outing of the 23-year-old right-hander's 2019 season at either Round Rock or Double-A Corpus Christi, and was the second-longest of his career, beaten only by an eight-inning Texas League gem last Aug. 9. It was also the second straight quality start for a pitcher who needed a couple after allowing 14 earned runs over 5 2/3 innings combined in starts on June 4 at Las Vegas and June 10 at Salt Lake -- the second and third Triple-A starts of his career. As a result, Bielak entered Monday with a 9.17 ERA in the Pacific Coast League. He saw it drop to 6.57 on Monday.


Gameday box score


"I kinda hit a speed bump there for a little bit, but it's coming together here lately," he said. "Now it's about keeping the foot on the pedal and moving forward. Playing in some different ballparks with different types of travel with some new guys that I haven't played with before, there's a lot of transition. It comes down to sticking to who I am and doing what I'm capable of doing every time I'm out there."

The 2017 11th-rounder out of Notre Dame is capable of dominance with a solid four-pitch mix that includes a 91-94 mph fastball and above-average offerings in his curveball and changeup. Using that arsenal, Bielak retired the first seven I-Cubs he faced Monday before Jacob Hannemann reached by poking a ball to third base with the infield shifted the other way. 

"Eh, baseball happens," Bielak, who allowed a walk to Dixon Machado one batter later, said of his reaction to the hit, knowing his final line. "There are things you can control and things you can't, and that was a thing I couldn't control."

Even with that impressive early run, the right-hander wasn't using everything he had.

"I turned to my pitching coach [Drew French] after the third inning and said that I didn't think I'd thrown a changeup to that point," said the Express starter. "He told me it was as good a time as any to start."

Video: Round Rock's Bielak fans Adduci

Working with his full arsenal, Bielak set down all 12 Iowa batters he faced between the fourth and seventh frames, half of which came via strikeouts. He finished with 101 pitches, 60 strikes and 19 swings-and-misses. That 18.8 percent swing-and-miss rate was exactly double his 9.9 percent rate between Corpus Christi and Round Rock entering Monday -- numbers that are more indicative of his talent than his inflated ERA. No matter what, the New Jersey native feels like he's in a better place now, both mentally and within the Astros organization, than he was a week ago.

"It's definitely calming," he said. "Everywhere I've been, I've always worked extremely hard to produce, but this is the first time all season I've put up all zeros. A lot of good things to take from this one."

Joshua Rojas provided the bulk of the Express offense, hitting a grand slam off Iowa starter Trevor Clifton in the sixth and adding an RBI single in the eighth. The 2017 26th-rounder's five RBIs were a season high and his most since plating six for Class A Quad Cities on July 19, 2017.

Iowa tacked on runs with an RBI single from Dixon Machado and a two-run base hit by Mark Zagunis in the eighth and a solo homer by Robel Garcia in the ninth, but it wasn't enough to close the gap.

Sam Dykstra is a reporter for MiLB.com. Follow and interact with him on Twitter, @SamDykstraMiLB. This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.

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