Four outings into his season, Michael Mercado had seen a mixed bag of results. On Thursday night, everything came together.
Tampa Bay's No. 16 prospect threw five perfect innings, striking out a career-high six, as Class A Short Season Hudson Valley blanked West Virginia, 8-0.
Video: Hudson Valley's Mercado finishes five perfect innings
"I just felt really confident with my delivery, with all my pitches and how my mechanics were feeling," the second-year pro said. "I thought the last couple of my starts have been really good despite the outcome. I guess luck was on my side this time and everything was really working for me. I stayed really focused throughout all five innings."
Mercado (1-0) headed into his latest start with a 5.21 ERA after a July 5 outing against Staten Island in which he allowed four runs on five hits over five innings. The right-hander didn't allow a ball out of the infield until the final out of the third inning against the Black Bears, striking out four of the first eight men he faced and getting the other four on grounders.
"Right from the get-go, I felt really good," he said. "I usually feel good, but I definitely knew when my infield made some plays and the guys weren't really squaring up balls like some of the other teams were doing, I knew that I had good stuff working. I kind of knew all the way through that it could potentially be a good night."
Gameday box score
After retiring the side in order in the fourth, Mercado finished his showing on a similar note to his dominant early effort. Following a groundout to first by Brett Kinneman, the 19-year-old whiffed Mike Gretler and froze Connor Kaiser on a called strike three to cap his outing.
"I was really using the fastball-changeup combo," Mercado said. "My changeup has felt a lot better in my last two starts, and today it was just a ground-ball pitch as well as I was doing a good job of keeping my fastball down in the zone where they couldn't really drive anything into the outfield. I think that combo seems to work pretty good right now, and hopefully I can keep it going."
Mercado threw 71 pitches, 45 for strikes.
"It just gives me so much confidence in that I can get out these hitters that are fresh out of college and experienced," he said. "I know that I have the stuff to beat them if I focus and I commit to those pitches and execute what I want to do with it.
"[Going forward] I just want to go out there with the same mentality that I'm going to attack hitters. I'm going to keep the ball down, and I'm going to mix up my pitches. Obviously this is not a bad league. There are a lot of very good players in this league, and I know that for a fact just watching all these teams through the first third of the season. I'm just going to go out there with the same mentality and hopefully have the same result."
Departing after five innings, the native of San Diego, California, handed his gem off to B.J. Myers, who sat down the first five batters he faced to keep the perfect-game bid alive into the seventh. West Virginia's Luke Mangieri broke through with a ground-rule double to left with two outs in the seventh.
Chris Betts led Hudson Valley with three hits and two runs scored. Jacson McGowan tripled in a run and scored another while Erik Ostberg added two hits, a walk and two runs.