While continuing to make a push toward the Major League rotation, Justus Sheffield turned in his best International League start Friday night for Scranton/Wilkes-Barre.
The Yankees second-ranked prospect allowed a hit and two unearned runs over six innings en route to the Triple-A RailRiders' 4-3 victory over Louisville at PNC Field. Sheffield (1-2) struck out eight and walked three in his longest IL start, lowering his ERA to 2.96.
Video: Sheffield gets through six with a K for SWB
Sheffield said his changeup and slider -- a pitch he couldn't gain a feel for in his previous outing -- were effective early in Friday night's contest. Getting his off-speed pitches working out of the gate was paramount for the left-hander, who said he struggled to command the fastball until around the third inning.
"When I can get at least one of those [off-speed] pitches working, usually it's a good night. Thankfully, tonight I had both of them working," MLB.com's No 40 overall prospect said. "I just try to get ahead as best I could and following my secondary stuff."
Gameday box score
The 2014 first-round selection has made six starts for Scranton/Wilkes-Barre since being promoted from Double-A Trenton on May 4. He left his second start after 3 2/3 hitless innings and landed on the seven-day disabled list with shoulder stiffness, but missed only one turn in the rotation. Sheffield said he feels no ill effects of the injury and probably just needed a little time to get over some fatigue.
"I got my rest and got back in there. Now I'm getting in there and my pitch count is back up, so things are starting to roll," he said.
Sheffield allowed just one earned run over his next three outings spanning 11 2/3 innings, but he was roughed up in a loss to Indianapolis on June 2 in his first outing free of pitch restrictions. His ERA swelled from 1.65 to 3.80 after he was tagged for six runs on four hits in five frames against the Indians.
"Just getting back in that five-day rotation, I'm kind of getting used to it now," Sheffield said. "Things are starting to get a little more comfortable and stuff like that. I just got to continue to work in [the rotation]."
The 22-year-old also missed nearly two months last season while dealing with an oblique strain. Although he made up for lost time with an impressive Arizona Fall League campaign, the injury pushed him back to the Eastern League to start the season, a level in which he first played at in 2016. As far as the next rung of the ladder is concerned, Sheffield has bought into the idea that he just need to stay on the path toward his ultimate goal.
"I stay hungry. I been hungry since before I even got drafted," he said. "I will always have in my mind that I want to be in the big leagues. It's going to continue to be like that, and once I'm there, I'm going to continue working hard because I want to be one of the best in the big leagues and be able to stay there.
"When I go through my days, I put in my work ... but I feel like everything is going to take care of itself as long as I go out and stay healthy, get out there every fifth day and enjoy it with my team here, I feel like the chips will fall into place."
On Friday night, Sheffield worked around walks in each of the first two frames, stranding Phillip Ervin at third base in the second inning by getting Gabriel Guerrero to go down swinging and Chadwick Tromp to pop out to first. Sheffield retired the side in order in the third and fourth before the troublesome fifth.
D.J. Peterson reached on Sheffield's second four-pitch walk and RailRiders shortstop Tyler Wade mishandled Guerrero's roller to start the inning. Tromp flied to right before Sheffield induced a grounder from Blake Trahan, but the play resulted in only one out, placing runners at the corners. Dilson Herrera followed with Louisville's first hit, a double into left that brought both runs home, and Sheffield escaped further damage by getting Mason Williams to line to short.
"That's what happens when you put guys on with a free pass," he said. "That cannot happen. At all. That can burn you."
Sheffield threw a perfect sixth, striking out his final two opponents, and exited after throwing 52 of 87 pitches for strikes.
Bruce Caldwell aided lefty's cause with a three-run homer in the fourth and Ryan McBroom added a solo shot in the sixth.