When Jake Odorizzi was promoted to Double-A last year, he went through some growing pains. On Friday, he showed he learned from that experience.
The Royals' No. 4 prospect allowed three hits over five shutout innings in his season debut, helping the Northwest Arkansas Naturals defeat the Corpus Christi Hooks, 5-3.
"I was very happy with it," Odorizzi said. "A lot of strikes, got ahead early. Usually, that ends up being a pretty decent start."
The 22-year-old right-hander struck out eight -- more than he totaled in any of his 12 starts with the Naturals last season. He also did not issue a walk, a feat he accomplished only twice at Double-A in 2011.
"I tried to establish the fastball early and everything else else worked off that," Odorizzi said. "Things went well."
After allowing a first-inning single to Kody Hinze, Odorizzi retired nine of 10 batters. The only Hook to reach base during that stretch was Jordan Kreke, who struck out but reached first on a wild pitch -- one of two thrown by Odorizzi in the first two innings.
"I spiked a fastball on one and the other was a slider on a strikeout that hit off our catcher [Ben Theriot]'s glove," he explained. "I spiked the fastball, but there was nobody on base for it, so it was OK."
Mario Lisson put the Naturals up with a two-run homer in the fourth before Theriot added an RBI single later in the inning. Top Royals prospect Wil Myers smacked a solo shot in the fifth, while Terry Evans drove in the team's final run with a sacrifice fly in the seventh.
Selected by the Brewers in the first round of the 2008 Draft, Odorizzi was traded to the Royals in the December 2010 deal that sent Zack Greinke to Milwaukee. He put together a 2.87 ERA in 15 starts for Class A Advanced Wilmington last year, then posted a 4.72 mark in 12 starts for Northwest Arkansas.
Although he compiled a 5.73 ERA in August, Odorizzi thrived in his season finale, allowing one hit over seven shutout innings. This year, he is determined to put up lines like that more frequently.
"I just want to continue the success I had in my last couple starts at the end of last year," he said. "I think I did a pretty good job with that the first time out."
The Illinois native should be helped by a familiarity with his coaching staff and teammates -- a luxury he did not have when changing organizations last year. He also can start the season without the pressure of being the man recently traded for a Cy Young Award winner.
"I think [the pressure] was off about halfway through the year last year," Odorizzi said. "I didn't really think about it too much after my first couple games for Wilmington. I don't know what everyone else is thinking, but for me, I feel no pressure."
As for his goals for 2012, Odorizzi said he's focused on starting every fifth day with the ultimate aim of moving up in the organization.
"I just want to pitch well, that's my main goal," he said. "Pitch well and hopefully move up the ladder some time. I don't know what they want to do with me, but it all depends on my performance. I want to go out day to day and have good performances."