Spencer Howard did this twice before, but this one felt different.
The Phillies' 19th-ranked prospect gave up three hits and a walk while tying his career high with 10 strikeouts over six innings as Class A Lakewood beat Hagerstown, 8-0, on Friday at FirstEnergy Park.
Video: Howard picks up 10th K for Lakewood
It was the BlueClaws' Minor League-leading 18th shutout and the third scoreless outing of the season for Howard (4-7). He had an almost identical performance on May 10, when he allowed three hits and a walk while fanning seven against Charleston, and he shut out the Suns over six innings on April 26, yielding a pair of hits and a walk with seven punchouts. The only other time the 21-year-old struck out 10 was last Aug. 29 for Class A Short Season Williamsport.
"This was the first time all year that all my stuff has been synced up and I've been able to command all four of my pitches," Howard said. "Physically, this is the best shape I've ever been in and I haven't really been that stretched out, so it was good to be able to give the team that kind of length. Especially after just having a few guys in our bullpen recently promoted."
The 2017 second-round pick worked around a one-out walk to Nationals No. 20 prospect Cole Freeman in the first inning. He got fifth-ranked Luis Garcia to ground into a forceout and won a nine-pitch battle by striking out Omar Meregildo on a changeup.
"I was heavy with my fastball early on and I used my changeup to lefties to start," Howard said. "But as the game went on, I really worked everything in. I went to my changeup to righties, too, and mixed in my cutter and threw more curveballs tonight.
"I think the first couple of innings, I left pitches up. I kind of rushed the ball out and they hit my mistakes. But then I settled into the zone and everything just started to work from there."
Gameday box score
After giving up back-to-back singles with one out in the second, Howard retired 14 of the final 15 hitters he faced, setting down the side in order in the fourth, fifth and sixth. The only blemish during that string was a third-inning single by Freeman, who lined a first-pitch fastball into left field. The right-hander ended his outing with 11 consecutive outs.
"Yesterday I really worked on driving through with my back hip and staying slow with my load. Just focusing on my lower half, which allows me to be athletic through my motion and just pitch [rather] than focus on mechanics," Howard said. "And I felt really good throughout the game. In the sixth, I knew I was coming out because I was coming to my pitch limit, so I just left it all out there.
"It's good to know I can still do this. It's been a while. But I don't think I figured anything out yet. I'm just trying to keep getting better every day."
Jonathan Hennigan gave up two hits and a walk over the final three innings, fanning two for his second save.
Quincy Nieporte put Howard in line for the win with a two-run double in the sixth. Two batters later, Josh Stephen capped a six-run inning with a three-run dinger to right. In the seventh, Rodolfo Duran launched his 11th roundtripper over the wall in left -- his third straight game with a homer.
No. 18 Nats prospect Brigham Hill did not factor in the decision after allowing two hits and three walks with a strikeout over four scoreless innings. Frankie Bartow (0-1) entered in the fifth and yielded six runs on six hits in two frames.