When a pitcher records 15 strikeouts, he probably worked deep into the game.
But when Aberdeen Ironbirds right-hander Radhames Liz fanned 15 Vermont Expos on July 19, he did it in only six innings, earning MiLB.com's Best Short-Season Single Game Performance Award.
Liz had been pitching fairly well leading up to that game in Burlington, Vt. Five nights earlier, the 22-year-old native of the Dominican Republic fired five innings of one-hit ball and struck out five in a win over the Staten Island Yankees.
According to Ironbirds catcher Kyle Dahlberg, Liz gave no indication during their pregame bullpen session that something special was on the horizon.
"There wasn't really anything spectacular going on in the bullpen beforehand," Dahlberg said. "There wasn't any one thing that stood out. He just got on a real good roll, and we were on the same page because our coach (Dave Schmidt) allowed me to call my own game."
The first time through the Expos order, Dahlberg primarily called for Liz's mid-90s fastball to overpower batters, putting it up in the zone.
"He set the tone for the game right away in the first inning," Dahlberg recalled. "When you're striking everyone out, you kind of shove it in their faces. It was tough for the other guys because while they might have seen guys throwing high-90s heat, they aren't used to seeing guys who can put that fastball exactly where they want."
After the third inning, more and more pitches were either getting fouled off or taken. So Liz had a simple message for his battery mate.
"In between innings, he came over to me and said 'Hey, we use more curveballs,'" said Dahlberg, a TCU product. "And so we did.
"That was the biggest difference between this game and all the others that I caught with him -- it was the first time he was throwing his curve with a lot of confidence."
Liz was lifted before the seventh after exhausting his pitch count, but the numbers were impressive nonetheless: six innings, two hits, no runs, no walks and 15 strikeouts. Getting the win was icing on the cake as Aberdeen beat Vermont, 4-2.
The game was the highlight of a strong first professional season for Liz, who went 5-4 with a 1.77 ERA for the Ironbirds. He held New York-Penn League hitters to a .188
average and struck out 82 in 56 innings while walking 19.
Where he will end up in 2006 remains to be seen, but on July 19 Liz showed the Baltimore Orioles front office just what he can do.
This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.