Caleb Ferguson has executed at a high level all season long, perhaps never better than Tuesday night.
The Dodgers' No. 21 prospect struck out a career-high 11 while allowing four hits and two walks over seven scoreless innings in Class A Advanced Rancho Cucamonga's 2-1, 12-inning win over Modesto at LoanMart Field.
Ferguson faced adversity out of the gate as the Nuts loaded the bases with two outs in the first. The left-hander didn't panic and struck out Joe DeCarlo to end the frame.
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"I was in that situation in San Jose two starts ago," he said. "It's just staying calm and executing your pitch. I try to stay calm in every situation I'm put into and just keep executing, keep competing, and try to get everybody out."
After setting down the side in order in the second, the 2014 38th-round pick worked around at least one baserunner in each of the next three frames. None advanced beyond second base, however, as he said he began to feel stronger after the shaky first. The 21-year-old cruised through his final two innings, allowing only a walk to Ryan Scott.
"I was that way in high school. As the game went on, I would settle in and get a little stronger," Ferguson said. "I wouldn't fall behind in counts and keep the pitch counts down. [In the first inning], I was falling so far behind in counts and they kind of knew fastballs were coming. It was more settling in after that first inning and then just pitching."
Ferguson has racked up 21 punchouts over 13 innings in his last two outings, the only ones this season in which he's reach double digits. The Columbus, Ohio, native has flashed more strikeout stuff of late. While he fanned 58 over 56 2/3 frames (9.2 per nine innings) in the first half of the season, he has compiled 52 in 46 innings (10.2) since the California League's All-Star break.
"I haven't really changed my approach at all from the first half," Ferguson said. "I've just been able to repeat my delivery a lot more and pitch off my fastball. If I have my fastball working that day, it just makes everything that much better for me.
"Really, the big thing is I'm not trying to strike everybody out. It's more or less just executing the pitches that I'm throwing."
Ferguson has surrendered three or fewer runs in all but one start this season, allowing him to post an 8-4 record and a 2.72 ERA that currently ranks first among active pitchers on the circuit. The Ohio high school product deflected much of the praise for that success to his teammates.
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"It just all kind of goes back to executing the pitches and competing and trusting the guys behind you to make the plays that need to be made," Ferguson said. "We've got a great defense out here, and I support a lot of those guys. I just know if the ball is put in play, they're going to give it their all to make that out for me."
Zach McKinstry scored the winning run on a wild pitch by reliever Matt Walker (4-4).
Tony Gonsolin (5-5) yielded one hit and fanned four in two innings of scoreless relief for Rancho Cucamonga.
Modesto starter Robert Dugger yielded three hits and walked three with nine whiffs over seven scoreless innings.