Jose De Leon overwhelmed hitters all night with his slider and fastball command. Afterwards, however, he couldn't believe what he'd accomplished.
"I was like, 'Oh, my God, this is overwhelming,'" the Dodgers prospect said after talking to his father, Jose, on the phone. "It's hard to believe. It's like a dream."
De Leon learned that he had broken the Class A Great Lakes' club record -- shared by Clayton Kershaw -- with 14 strikeouts in the Loons' 5-1 win at Fort Wayne on Tuesday.
Making just his second Midwest League start, the 22-year-old right-hander gave up four hits over six innings without issuing a walk. He allowed half of those knocks in the second before striking out nine straight TinCaps.
"I was feeling pretty good. Since the first inning, I just gained confidence," De Leon said. "Once we got one run on the board, that's all I needed, and sometimes that boosts your confidence. Once I get in my rhythm, I try to stay focused. Eventually, I [give] up hits and runs, [but] today my strikeouts were working. I was trying to strike everyone out."
The 2013 24th-round Draft pick almost did just that, shattering by two the team record set by Kershaw on April 24, 2007 and equaled by Victor Garate on July 5, 2008 and Greg Wilborn on Aug. 8, 2010.
De Leon also came within one of tying the Midwest League record for consecutive strikeouts, set by Burlington's Art Groza in 1966.
"I was just trying to get outs, I just really want to give my team the chance to win. I'm a strikeout pitcher and that's how I got outs," De Leon said. "I think it's the first time I've struck out more than 12. It's definitely one game to remember in the future, to look [back] to this game and to remember what was working to do it again."
Tuesday marked fourth time in his career and the third time this season that De Leon (2-0) reached double-digit punchouts.
"I worked on my slider a lot, and [Tuesday] that was the pitch that was really working. I'm starting to feel comfortable throwing it in every count," he said. "I threw a changeup behind in the count. That was the first time I did that, and I struck the guy out. I'm not a guy that looks to the stats or looks to the accolades. It's always a good thing to know, but what is important to me is that we won."
After beginning the season in the Rookie-level Pioneer League, the Colegio San Antonio product was promoted to Great Lakes. In his Loons' debut on Aug. 14, he allowed a run on three hits over six innings while striking out seven.
"He's real comfortable coming from Ogden. He's pitched really well up here and hasn't skipped a beat," Great Lakes pitching coach Bill Simas said. "He was real impressive [Tuesday]. He was impressive in his first outing, but this topped his first performance. He just stayed controlled from early on in the game."
Joey Curletta staked De Leon to the lead with an RBI double in the third, then hit a two-run homer -- his seventh -- in the fifth.
Kyle Hooper and Michael Johnson each pitched a scoreless inning before Mark Pope gave up a run in the ninth for the Loons, who ended a three-game losing streak.