Coming off two of his worst starts as a pro, Chad James got to the ballpark early, made some changes to his delivery and turned in a gem against South Atlantic League-leading Lakewood and rehabbing slugger Ryan Howard.
James allowed one run on one hit -- an RBI double by Howard -- over six innings Friday as the Greensboro Grasshoppers shut down Lakewood, 4-1, on the night the BlueClaws retired Howard's jersey.
"It was a good night," said James, the 18th overall pick in the 2009 Draft. "I wanted to make sure that I was prepared, especially with Ryan Howard in the lineup, and I wanted to make sure that I pitched how I knew I could.
"When I got to the field, I put some music on to take my mind off of pitching and I spent extra time in the bullpen to throw some extra pitches to make sure I was ready to go."
James allowed just one runner to get into scoring position through the first five innings when he issued back-to-back walks in the second. But he got Anthony Hewitt to line into a double play to keep Lakewood off the board.
That was all the offense the BlueClaws could muster until Leandro Castro drew a one-out walk in the sixth and Howard went the opposite way and doubled to the gap in left-center field.
The extra-base hit denied James a shutout, but the 19-year-old left-hander said he still enjoyed squaring off with the three-time All-Star and former National League MVP.
"It was a great experience. I tried not to think about it too much, but it was always in the back of my mind," he said.
James (4-9) walked Howard in the first before getting him to ground into a shift in the fourth. But Howard got his revenge in the sixth.
"I was behind 3-1 (in the count) in the sixth and I knew I had to put it in the zone, but it caught too much of the middle of the plate and he put it into the gap for an RBI double," the Oklahoma native said.
"He is a very disciplined hitter and he was looking for his pitch. I wanted to make sure I didn't walk him, and I got the pitch in and he went with it."
James, who threw a no-hitter in his first varsity start as a high school freshman, came out after the sixth but was pleased with his start. He had surrendered 12 runs on 23 hits over 10 1/3 innings in his previous two outings and had not won in eight starts since July 1.
"I hit a wall there for a little bit and I had a couple rough starts," James said. "I was thinking too much and instead of challenging hitters I was trying to be too perfect. My pitching coach has helped me out a lot and he got me to pitch more over the top so that I could angle my fastball better and throw the pitches where I wanted them.
"All three of my pitches were working tonight. I was able to keep my curve down and get a good bite to it, I was able to put my fastball where I wanted it and my change was really strong."
Ramon Benjamin yielded one hit over two innings and Alejandro Ramos pitched around a pair of walks in the ninth for his league-leading 28th save.
"They are really good," James said. "That is exactly what the coach wants from them and they got the job done. Ramos is a good closer for us and has been great for the entire year. And I always have a lot of confidence in our bullpen and guys like Benjamin.
"This was a good start, but now I want to finish the rest of the season strong. Hopefully, the rest of the year can go the same way as this."