In order to eventually get from San Antonio to San Diego, Robbie Erlin is going to face more hitters like Astros slugging prospect Jonathan Singleton.
How he fared against Singleton on Sunday afternoon typified his latest start and his season thus far. And in Erlin's eyes, that means mixed results.
Falling behind in the count but charging back with more strikes than balls, the Padres' No. 6 prospect struck out six over five innings to earn his first win of 2012 in the Double-A Missions' 10-0 shutout of the Corpus Christi Hooks.
Erlin retired the first seven Hooks he faced before issuing a walk, the first of his three for the game, in the third. The 21-year-old left-hander also pitched around a pair of two-out singles by Jose Martinez and Jonathan Villar.
MLB.com's No. 99 overall prospect threw 99 total pitches. He delivered a first-pitch strike to half of his 22 batters.
"I would evaluate [myself] based on the execution of pitches, and today was OK," said Erlin, who recorded 10 groundouts. "There were some things I improved on from my last outing and some things I didn't. I felt like I had a better feel for off-speed [pitches], but I lacked a little bit of fastball command.
"I really just tried to keep the ball down. Pitching in Corpus Christi, it's easier to put the ball out to left, so I was trying to keep the ball down."
The batter who posed the greatest threat to put the ball out to right, left-handed hitting Singleton, struck out twice on nine total pitches in their first- and fourth-inning matchups: Erlin fell behind 1-0 in the former, then 2-0 in the latter before righting the count in his favor.
Then with the game in hand for the Missions in the fifth, Erlin faced Singleton a third time and was simply attempting to pitch into the sixth for just the second time in his six outings this season.
It didn't happen. Singleton, Houston's No. 1 prospect and the owner of a .309 batting average, ended a 10-pitch battle by earning a base on balls.
"I knew my pitch count was getting up there," Erlin said. "I wanted to get ahead of him and end the at-bat with as few pitches as possible. He was trying to get back into the count, and he did."
A 2009 third-round draftee of the Rangers and trade deadline casualty last July, Erlin has nevertheless compiled a 2.20 ERA and a 36-to-8 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 28 2/3 frames. He posted similar numbers -- 1.38 ERA and 31-to-4 in 26 -- in his first six starts at San Antonio last season after coming over from Texas.
"There's been some positives and some negatives," Erlin said of his 2012 in-progress. "I haven't been really executing my pitches as well as as I would like. I'll [need] to have a quality bullpen [session] to tune up and gain the confidence I need in my pitches."
His position-playing teammates, however, could probably skip batting practice. The Missions pushed across at least one run in six of the game's first seven innings. Third-place hitter Jedd Gyorko started the scoring with his first-inning solo blast against Jake Buchanan. Gyorko, the Padres' No. 4 prospect, has three homers over his last four games and six overall.
Jason Hagerty and Nathan Freiman also went yard off Buchanan, while Cody Decker doubled, singled and plated two runs -- all within the first five innings.
"It was very comforting to have that run support early in the game," Erlin said. "Our offense has been battling early in the season and things are starting to click."
Freiman, who singled home two more in the sixth, went 3-for-5 with a game-high five RBIs. He leads the Texas League in longballs (11) and total bases (77) and is second in RBIs (26) through 29 games.
"He's definitely a very good hitter and he goes up there with a plan," Erlin said of his teammate. "It's something that I recognize from the pitching side, [that] this guy has always been a tough out because he lets the ball get so deep that he can recognize pitches."
Missions relievers Jeff Ibarra and Robert Lara combined on the game's final three innings to ensure the shutout.
Buchanan (1-2) was charged with seven runs on nine hits over four innings.