For the second time in his Minor League career, Mike Rayl is showing that he can get it right the second time around.
Getting another shot at the Carolina League, Rayl -- as he did in his second chance at the Midwest League -- is flourishing. Aided by a pair of home runs from teammate Jesus Aguilar, the lefty out-dueled Lynchburg's Cody Martin to pick up his third win of the season in a 3-0 Mudcats victory.
"I have a little more experience, so I know the hitting level a little better," said Rayl after his team's combined two-hitter.
On Thursday, Rayl was able to force plenty of soft contact in play. He induced five groundballs and two infield popups to go with four strikeouts in carving up the Lynchburg batting order for six innings.
"I was able to locate my fastball pretty early, and my offspeed was pretty effective in the later innings," said Rayl, who throws a fastball, changeup and curveball. "I was able to mix all my pitches for the most part. I'd say my curveball is a little ahead of my changeup, but I like my changeup more and throw it more often."
Rayl got his first experience in the Carolina League after being promoted from the Midwest League's Lake County Captains in late July of last season. The Palm Beach Community College product struggled, particularly with the longball, allowing six home runs in 41 innings and pitching to a 4.61 ERA and a 1-3 record in eight starts.
In 33 2/3 innings over his first six starts of 2012, though, Rayl has permitted just three homers, which has helped to keep his ERA down at 2.67. Along with allowing fewer round-trippers, Rayl's walked fewer and struck out fewer. He's letting his defense do the work for him, and he's seeing positive results. Opponents are hitting just .203 off the Lake Worth, Fla., after they batted .293 against him last season.
For the first six innings Thursday, Martin was perhaps even more impressive than Rayl. The 22-year-old Gonzaga product had allowed just a pair of singles and a hit batter until the top of the seventh when Carolina cleanup hitter Aguilar drilled a home run to left field to unlock a scoreless tie. Martin went seven innings, allowing just the one run while striking out eight.
After a pair of perfect relief innings by Mudcat Trey Haley, Aguilar hit a two-out, two-run blast in the ninth off Juan Jaime, scoring center fielder Tyler Holt in front of him and giving Carolina the 3-0 margin that would be the final.
Aguilar, rated as the Indians' top first base prospect and 25th overall in the system by Baseball America entering the season, had a breakout campaign in 2011, swatting 23 home runs, including four with the former Cleveland affiliate in the Carolina League, Kinston. Like Rayl, his return to the circuit has proved fruitful as he is batting .333 with five home runs through 25 games, and his 51 total bases are good for fourth in the league.
Both the 21-year-old Aguilar and 23-year-old Rayl appear nearly ready for a tougher assignment, and Double-A Akron would be the next logical stop. Rayl said he hopes the call is coming soon.
"Every day I try not to worry about that too much and let my performance speak for itself," said Rayl. "But I think I am ready and I just have to wait and see."
Rayl's in his fourth season in the Indians system after a dominant career at Palm Beach. He fell to the 15th round of the 2009 Draft because his commitment to the University of Florida was considered strong, but a $125,000 offer from the Indians changed things.
Rayl has seen every rung in the Indians' system. He had his breakout in 2011 at Lake County, where he sported a 2.83 ERA after struggling in his lone outing there to end the previous season.
"I feel like every year I look back at it, I made the right choice even more."