Kyle McPherson is back to his old habits.
McPherson struck out nine and walked one over seven hitless innings for his third win as Class A West Virginia one-hit Lexington, 5-0, on Tuesday afternoon.
The Mobile, Ala., native, who struck out 10 in his previous start, has whiffed 48 batters in 48 1/3 innings this season. He's now struck out nine or more in three of his eight starts after never totaling that many in a single start in his previous three seasons.
Turns out, the answer to his success was there all along.
"It's just been a transformation," McPherson said. "I've gone back to that old arm slot. My last three or four starts, it's been a slow development, but the strikeouts have been coming. It's just my natural arm slot."
In other words, McPherson has tweaked his pitching mechanics, throwing now as he did back in college. When the Pirates drafted the righty out of the University of Mobile in 2007, the organization changed his arm slot, and after trying it for several seasons in Class A, the Bucs have encouraged him to go back to what works best.
"This organization, they want the best and what's most beneficial for health purposes," McPherson said. "The path we were headed down with a long arm slot was what they wanted, but they figured out it was better to go back."
McPherson, for one, is feeling much more comfortable. Opposing hitters, not so much: the righty has 19 strikeouts in his last 13 innings and has whiffed five or more in each of his last five starts.
Strikeouts aside, Tuesday's effort was perhaps the best start of McPherson's career, with only two batters reaching base.
"Definitely," he said. "I'm feeling good."
McPherson was pulled after seven despite the no-hitter. He said he understood the reasoning, though.
"It was mainly pitch count, I'm at 85-90 as a starter, and I knew I'd hit my limit there," he said. "Fortunately I was able to get seven innings in."
McPherson walked Miguel Arrendell to lead off the third inning, but escaped trouble when Grant Hogue lined into an inning-ending double play. Kody Hinze was the only other batter to reach base when McPherson mishandled a grounder in the fifth.
He struck out 2009 first-round pick Jiovanni Mier to begin the seventh before retiring Jake Goebbert and J.D. Martinez to end his afternoon.
"I definitely knew the pitch count was getting elevated there," he said. "I wanted to finish the game, but I also knew they had my best interests at heart. They want me to continue to develop, and I understood that."
Ryan Kelly came out of the bullpen to start the eighth and gave up the only hit of the game, a two-out single to Arrendell to end the no-hit bid.
"It was special to see. Ryan Kelly has always done a good job out the pen, and he pounds the zone," said McPherson. "He's just kind of a go-to guy to shut the game down. He gave up a hit, but I was still very pleased with his outing, using his strengths. A win's a win, a one-hitter or two-hitter."
It was the first hitless performance by McPherson since he tossed three such frames Aug. 6, 2008, for Class A Short-Season State College.
"[The arm slot is] feeling outstanding; I really don't have any complaints with it at all," he said. "It's a lot more natural, instead of being forced, where it was a force to get the ball down and located. I'm very pleased."
The 22-year-old, despite the unnatural delivery, still saw success in the 2009 season, which he split between State College and West Virginia. He finished a combined 9-5 with a 3.78 ERA in 26 games, 21 coming as starts.
McPherson said he noticed around the third inning on Tuesday that he'd kept runners off the bases.
"I knew I was getting some early contact; I noticed balls hadn't really fallen in anywhere," he said. "I hadn't been out of the stretch, so I just thought, well, I'll try to continue doing what I'm doing, see what happens."
His teammates, noticing the no-hitter in progress, stopped talking to him.
"They kinda shunned away from me when I was trying to pick up hitters," McPherson laughed. "They didnt say too much."
The 2007 14th-round pick lowered his ERA from 4.32 to 3.70 with his hitless start. He struck out 10 over five frames in his last outing on May 19 against Delmarva after setting a short-lived career-high in strikeouts with nine on May 7 against Kannapolis.
"You just got to go out and do your work, focus on continuing to develop an arm slot and get reps on that," he said. "And not wanting to drift back to the old habits -- I just need to get ready to toe the rubber."