After having his ups and downs over the past six weeks, Matt Fox proved to himself Sunday that he is good enough to be pitching in the Majors once again.
Fox (8-4) allowed two hits and a walk while striking out seven batters in his first nine-inning, complete-game shutout in Triple-A Pawtucket's 5-0 victory over Gwinnett.
"It was very hot today, but I was able to get loose pretty quickly and stay loose. It was a lot of fun and it felt good," Fox said. "I was on the same page with my catcher [Ryan] Lavarnway and that was important. Pitchers always want to finish what they start, but it's tough to throw a complete game.
"My goal is to be up there in the Majors, but that's everybody's goal, so I try not to worry about it. If that situation arises at some point, it would be awesome. I need to keep going and finish strong."
The 29-year-old, claimed off waivers by the Boston Red Sox last September, was perfect through the first two innings and he worked around first baseman Lars Anderson's fielding error to begin the third to keep the Braves off the board.
Wilkin Castillo broke up the University of Central Florida product's no-hit bid with a two-out single to right field in the fourth inning after Stefan Gartrell had drawn a walk, but Fox fanned Wilkin Ramirez to strand both runners.
"[Castillo] is a lefty and I struck him out with a cutter in in his first at-bat," Fox explained. "I live with my cutter and, the second time, I left it over the plate a little too much. I wanted it in the inner third, but I left it over the middle. It wasn't the best executed pitch and good hitters will hit bad pitches."
From there, the right-hander -- originally selected by the Minnesota Twins in the first round of the 2004 Draft -- cruised. Fox, who threw 71 of his 99 pitches for strikes, set down the next 13 batters he faced until Brandon Hicks recorded a one-out single to left field in the ninth. But he retired Gartrell and Mauro Gomez to seal his first shutout.
The complete game marked the second time Fox has gone the distance. He allowed three runs on seven hits over eight innings while pitching for the Double-A New Britain Rock Cats in a 3-0 loss to the Connecticut Defenders on Aug. 26, 2009.
"To do it under 100 pitches was a lot of fun," Fox said. "I told my mom that it was my first complete game or shutout since college. She drove up from Orlando and I was glad that she was able to watch me. She's a teacher and she goes back to work tomorrow, so this is probably the last time she will see me pitch this year. It was nice to end her summer on a high."
Fox, who has been used out of the rotation, as a spot starter, in long relief and in ninth-inning roles this season, has struggled with consistency since returning to a full-time starting role in June.
He has allowed two hits or fewer in four of his last 11 starts, but he has also been ineffective at times. He allowed 11 runs on 10 hits -- including five homers -- over just 2 2/3 innings in a 13-3 loss on the road to the Rochester Red Wings on July 5, and he yielded seven runs on nine hits and two walks in a 13-3 defeat at home to the Durham Bulls on July 17.
"I had one of the worst starts of my career in Rochester," said Fox. "After that I talked with Randy Williams about how he threw his cutter and that has helped me make my cutter better. Pitching coach Rich Sauveur has also been hammering it into me that I need to throw my curveball and change-up to righties more.
"The good pitchers, when they're in a bases-loaded jam with nobody out, get out of it with one run. In my bad starts, when I get into trouble, I give up three or four runs and don't execute my pitches. The good pitchers don't allow that to happen."
Fox, who was originally selected in the sixth round of the 2001 Draft by the Arizona Diamondbacks but did not sign, is now in his sixth year of professional baseball. In 2010, he made his Major League debut with the Twins, posting an 4.91 without a decision in four games, including one start.
On Sunday, second baseman Nate Spears was 2-for-2 with two runs scored, an RBI and a walk, and Daniel Nava slugged his sixth homer of the year. Outfielder Ryan Kalish drove in two runs with a pair of sacrifice flies.