Judging by his line, you probably wouldn't have guessed that strikeouts weren't a part of the gameplan for Luis Escobar.
In his first Class A start, the Pittsburgh's No. 12 prospect set a career high with 12 punchouts and allowed one run on one hit in five innings as West Virginia fell to Rome, 2-1, in 11 innings at Appalachian Power Park on Sunday.
"Actually, my gameplan was to pitch to contact rather than go for the strikeouts," Escobar said with teammate Eduardo Vera serving as translator. "That way I would be able to work quickly and keep my pitch count low. But when I got ahead of a hitter, I made sure to take advantage of the situation and get the strikeout."
The Colombian right-hander was in a groove early, fanning four of the first six batters he faced in back-to-back 1-2-3 frames.
"I was excited to come out and get my first start of the season. I think that the enthusiasm helped me stay sharp and be effective in the early part of the game," Escobar said. "I know it's a long season and it will be my first full season, so I was trying to be effective and efficient from the beginning of the game."
He quickly retired Rome's Randy Ventura to start the third, but a passed third strike allowed Marcus Mooney to reach base. Two passed balls and a wild pitch later, Mooney was at third. The infield prospect scored on a wild pitch on ball four to Kevin Josephina.
Even though Escobar was a bit rattled, he recorded back-to-back strike outs of Anfernee Seymour and Derian Cruz to limit the damage to one run. Avoiding the big inning was paramount for Escobar because on the other side of the diamond Rome starting pitcher Ian Anderson -- Atlanta's No. 6 prospect -- was also piecing together a great outing.
"I was trying to save my best pitches for when I had runners on against me," Escobar added. "And at that time it became more important for me to keep the ball down in the zone so I could keep them from scoring and get back to the dugout."
So although he struggled in the third, he said he got a confidence boost from three swinging strikeouts in the ultimately clean frame. Escobar continued to miss bats in the fifth, working around Ventura's double and striking out two more to finish off his first start.
"My curveball was working really well. It had a good, hard spin and I was sequencing it well with my fastball and changeup," he said. "I was able to keep the ball down in the zone the whole time I was out there and that helped me get some outs. Even late in the game, I was able to get ahead of the batters and that helped me get through all five innings."
Anderson allowed a run on two hits and set a career high with eight strikeouts in 4 2/3 innings. Jon Kennedy (1-0) struck out four over two one-hit frames of scoreless relief to get the win.
Dylan Prohoroff (0-1) suffered the loss after giving up a run on three hits in three innings for West Virginia.