As Forrest Whitley continues to live up to the hype surrounding his return, Randy Cesar marches on toward the Texas League record book.
The top Astros prospect struck out six over four scoreless innings and Cesar extended his hitting streak to 35 games as Double-A Corpus Christi edged Midland, 4-3, on Wednesday night at Security Bank Ballpark.
Video: Corpus Christi's Whitley fans his sixth batter
Whitley has yielded three hits while fanning 11 over eight scoreless innings in two starts since returning from a 50-game suspension for violating the Minor League Drug Prevention and Treatment Program. The hot start is no surprise to his manager, who sees great things from the young hurler.
"He was pretty good tonight," Corpus Christi skipper Omar Lopez said. "It wasn't too much different than his first outing. He had total command of his pitches and even when he did fall behind, he was able to get back into the zone with his secondary stuff and then put the hitters away. For a guy who didn't pitch in a real game since last year, he seems like he hasn't missed a beat. Now it's just a matter of building up his pitch count."
Gameday box score
Whitley enjoyed an easy first inning but ran into trouble in the second. Eli White walked with one out and Seth Brown doubled him to third, but MLB.com's No. 7 overall prospect struck out Tyler Marincov and Brett Siddall to keep the RockHounds off the board. A leadoff walk to Mikey White and a two-out single by A's No. 18 prospect Tyler Ramirez put runners at the corners against Whitley in the third. The right-hander escaped unscathed by retiring sixth-ranked Sean Murphy on a popup to second. He ended his outing by fanning two in a perfect fourth.
After throwing 55 pitches in his season debut on Friday, Whitley was extended to 72 pitches against the RockHounds. The 20-year-old allowed two hits and two walks and struck out six.
"It was great to see him work out of the jam in the second inning," Lopez said. "We had him pegged for around 65 pitches in his first start, 75 [tonight] and then 85 his next time out. But I just want to see him continue doing what he's done so far. He keeps his cool, he stays focused and locked in on what he needs to do to minimize the damage. And that's what he did tonight."
Whitley's start to the season is hardly a surprise, considering his success in 2017. The 2016 first-round pick worked his way through three levels and went 5-4 with a 2.83 ERA and 143 strikeouts over 92 1/3 innings.
"I'd love to be sitting in my office in September watching him pitch in the big leagues. It's obviously not my call, but I really can't wait to see him up there. There's no doubt he's one of the best I've managed. I had Lance McCullers Jr., Vince Velasquez and a few others, but he's completely polished. His stuff is already plus and he commands the game so well. He's very mature for his age, and every time he steps on the mound, he can do something special."
Video: Corpus Christi's Cesar doubles to extend streak
For Cesar, it was more of the same in what's become the longest hitting streak in professional baseball this season. The 23-year-old's RBI double to center field in the sixth brought him within two games of the longest streak in Texas League history. El Paso's Bobby Trevino hit in 37 straight in 1969.
"Randy continues to put together good at-bats each game," Lopez said. "Towards the middle of last season with [Class A Advanced] Buies Creek, he realized he needed to simplify his swing and have a more consistent approach. He showed up in Spring Training with that same approach and he's carried it over through. The confidence is there and he's learned how to recognize pitches, which was a past weakness. It's one of the reasons he's been so successful."
Cesar, who walked and scored twice, is batting .378 with 17 extra-base hits and 28 RBIs during the streak. He leads the circuit with a .349 average, 13 points ahead of teammate Taylor Jones.
Erasmo Pinales (1-2) tossed 2 1/3 scoreless innings to earn the win.
Midland starter Norge Ruiz surrendered three runs on six hits and three walks with six strikeouts in six innings. Jarret Martin (1-2) allowed a go-ahead single to Jamie Ritchie in the eighth.
A's No. 20 prospect Richie Martin tripled, singled and scored a run for the RockHounds. Ramirez singled twice and walked and is 12-for-27 (.444) during a seven-game hitting streak.