Josh James used the offseason to learn from a Major League ace and is spending his time absorbing lessons from one of the Minor Leagues' most seasoned pitching coaches. All the input is helping fuel a breakout year.
The Astros' 30th-ranked prospect set a career high with 13 strikeouts, allowing three hits and a walk over seven innings, as Triple-A Fresno walked off with a 1-0 win over Colorado Springs on Tuesday night at Chukchansi Park.
Gameday box score
"I'm just excited," James said after his best start of the year. "I went out after my last outing and just went to work on 0-2, 1-2 putaways. [pitching coach] Dyar [Miller] before the game just kind of told me to relax and let the work that I've been putting in take care of itself. Don't overdo it, just go out and have fun and pitch. It all came together nicely."
James starred with Double-A Corpus Christi to begin the year, putting up a 2.49 ERA in six games, including four starts, but didn't put his stamp on the Pacific Coast League until he faced the Sky Sox. Two of the three hits he gave up came in the first -- a leadoff single by Kyle Wren and a one-out single by Brewers No. 25 prospect Jacob Nottingham. The right-hander allowed only two other baserunners the rest of his night.
Video: James notches 13th strikeout for Fresno
"I think part of my progression as a pitcher throughout the Minor Leagues, I struggled early throughout my career just kind of going after guys, just being a little timid," he said. "Dyar has really helped my career so far this year, just being here the last couple starts. He's really, really, really preached going after guys and that my stuff is good enough to get guys out. It's just about going out and not trying to pitch around, trying to be too fine. Just go out and let my stuff do what it's supposed to. Outing after outing, it's been true. I'm just sticking to that process."
The aggressive mentality showed in James' second double-digit strikeout performance in five Triple-A starts after a 10-strikeout effort on May 17. The right-hander fanned multiple batters five times, striking out the side in the fourth, and continued capitalizing on an approach he explored in depth over the winter.
Eight years and nearly 1,000 Draft picks separated Josh James and Max Scherzer, but the Astros prospect and the Nationals ace got acquainted in the offseason.
"I worked out in the offseason with Eric Cressey, one of the best strength coaches in the business," said James, the 1,006th overall selection in 2014. "I also got to talk to a bunch of big leaguers this past offseason, one of them being Max Scherzer. He helped me a lot."
The three-time Cy Young Award winner and 11th overall pick in 2006 instilled the notion of assertiveness.
"He makes himself available for questions," James said. "I'm not going to lie, I was a little timid to go up to him at first, being of his stature, but he told me don't ever be scared to come and ask him a question. He made himself available to me, and I thank him for that. That was awesome.
"He mentioned to me a little bit how he goes after guys. A lot of that [aggressiveness] came from this past offseason, and I was able to transition that into Spring Training, work and refine stuff in spring and take that into the season."
Video: Sky Sox Peralta gets 19th out
Tuesday's start, James' longest of the season at either level, dropped his ERA to 2.54 through five starts with Fresno. The Western Oklahoma State College product threw 64 of 91 pitches for strikes and fell one short of tying Tim Lincecum's club record for punchouts in a game.
James' outing wasn't enough for the Grizzlies, though. Sky Sox starter Freddy Peralta carried a no-hitter into the seventh before allowing Jack Mayfield's one-out single to right.
In the ninth, Brewers No. 22 prospect Jorge Lopez allowed a leadoff double to Tyler White and plunked AJ Reed. After Mayfield sacrificed the pair into scoring position, Lopez intentionally walked Garrett Stubbs before yielding Jon Kemmer's walk-off infield single.
"Man, that was awesome," James said. "I couldn't describe the feeling. It was great. Every win is special to me. I get fired up for every win, whether I'm on the mound or not on the mound. Every walk-off is great."