Noel Arguelles calls his mother in Cuba before every start. Most of those discussions this season have mostly been attempts at motherly reassurance -- the most uttered phrase being, "Everything is going to be OK."
Monday, it was.
The Royals' No. 12 prospect scattered two hits and one walk and struck out five over seven innings to help Double-A Northwest Arkansas blank Arkansas, 4-0.
With the win -- his first since May 17 in his first scoreless outing of the year -- the 22-year-old left-hander improved to just 3-12 with a 7.17 ERA in what has been a disastrous first trip through the Texas League. The 12 losses rank second-most among all Minor Leaguers this season, while the ERA figure is last among eligible Texas hurlers.
For that alone, Monday was a cause for joy.
"I'm really happy," Arguelles said through translator and batterymate Manny Pina. "The last month, every time I pitched, I would give up four runs or more in just a few innings. But tonight, I was able to hit seven innings with no runs and that was great.
"I didn't feel like I pitched differently really than what I've been doing. I used to go to bed thinking, 'Why is this happening to me?' But after tonight, I feel much happier. I don't know the last time I was this happy. It was a long time ago."
The key to the native Cuban's most recent success was his control. After allowing a single to Paul McAnulty in the first inning, he retired 10 consecutive Travelers to close the game's first four frames. He didn't allow his lone free pass until the seventh -- his final inning. He finished with 87 pitches, 59 for strikes.
In the 17 outings in which Arguelles has allowed two walks or more, he is 1-12 with 9.43 ERA. He is 2-0 with a 1.05 ERA in four starts in which he has allowed one walk or fewer, including Monday's win.
"From the start, he filled up the strike zone," said Naturals pitching coach Larry Carter. "Sometimes he would get down early in a few counts, but you could see when he got to two strikes he would add a little something. ... He was repeating a lot with the fastball, the curveball had good break and the changeups were all good. He had good feel for everything, more or less."
But there is still wonder about why the controlled outings like Monday's haven't been more abundant.
The 22-year-old, who defected from his homeland in 2008 alongside Red Sox prospect Jose Iglesias, signed a five-year, $7 million with the Royals in 2010 but didn't pitch that year after undergoing shoulder surgery. He returned last season to put up decent numbers (4-5, 3.20 ERA, 21 starts, 104 IP) for Class A Wilmington.
The reason behind this year's poor statistics could be the tougher competition following an offseason promotion or even continued concerns that his pitching shoulder is still not what it was before the surgery.
Arguelles would argue it's neither, and that he's still looking for the answer himself.
"I've been frustrated all year," he said. "I know what kind of pitcher I am and what kind of pitcher I can be, and this isn't it."
Regardless, if the southpaw can string together a few more outings like his latest, he'll be able to finish up the 2012 on a much brighter note than expected That's a message he can't wait to send home to his mom.
"I'm going to keep doing the same things and not change anything I'm doing," Arguelles said. "I've just been pretending the way I started never happened and have been working every day. Now I know the work is actually working."