When Jordan Lyles needed a strikeout on Friday, he got dirty.
"When I needed a punchout, that's what I went with," said Lyles, the Astros' top pitching prospect. "I was able to throw some curveballs in the dirt, so I was going with that. It worked pretty good."
Lyles turned in his second straight scoreless start, striking out eight over six innings in Triple-A Oklahoma City's 1-0 loss at New Orleans.
The 20-year-old right-hander threw 90 pitches in his fifth start of the season, holding the Zephyrs to five hits and a walk. He called it a "great outing," although it didn't begin that way.
"I didn't feel the best coming out of the 'pen," he said. "But I felt really good coming out for the next inning -- I had a great play made behind me in center field and, after that, I settled down, got the ball down later in the game. So, overall, it was a great outing."
Lyles escaped the first inning when Oscar Salazar lined to short, leaving Bryan Petersen hung up off second. He never got any run support, however, with Zephyrs starter Jay Buente throwing smoke for six frames. Buente, who struck out the side in the second and totaled 10 over six innings, held the RedHawks to four hits.
Lyles, MLB.com's No. 31 prospect, has fanned 11 over 13 shutout innings in his last two starts as his ERA has dropped from 7.07 to 3.67.
"It's always good to out out there and put up zeros," he said. "I just focus on what I've done last two outings -- attack hitters with my fastball, keep the ball down and see where it goes."
Lyles indicated he might have pitched another inning, but when the RedHawks put runners on the corners with two outs in the seventh, Drew Locke grounded out as a pinch-hitter.
"I felt fine," Lyles said. "That last inning, I didn't know what the pitch count was, but I don't think that had a lot to do with [getting pulled]."
The Astros' supplemental first-round in 2008, Lyles began the season with three mediocre starts, taking the loss in two of them. He has settled down since surrendering six runs over six innings on April 18 against Albuquerque.
"I just wanted to get back to what got me here -- attacking guys with my fastball," he said. "I've refined my cutter a bit, it's harder and sharper. I think the hitters weren't seeing it sweep."
Still only 20 and at Triple-A, Lyles sounds like a veteran when talking about refining his stuff. He said he's been working on tightening up the cutter since breaking camp with Houston. He's also throwing a slurve and a big, low breaking ball that, he hopes, hitters will chase in the dirt.
"I've been getting balls down, throwing the curveball down and bouncing it for strikeouts. That was big for me tonight," he said.