For someone who doesn't consider himself a strikeout pitcher, Jonathan Holder sure had a lot of people fooled on Sunday.
The Yankees prospect fanned 11 batters in a row and 12 of the 13 hitters he faced over four innings of scoreless relief as Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre beat Rochester, 3-1, to clinch an International League playoff berth.
"Ever since college, my approach has been that you can't get outs by throwing balls," Holder said. "I've always been a guy that likes to pound the zone and trust the defense behind me. Getting swings and misses is a plus, but letting hitters get themselves out is my game plan."
Holder took over for Tyler Webb (4-3) with runners at the corners and nobody out in the sixth inning. Trying his best to limit the damage, the 23-year-old right-hander struck out Wilfredo Tovar, Leonardo Reginatto and John Ryan Murphy -- all swinging -- to preserve the RailRiders' 3-1 lead.
"We were up two runs and I knew that guy on first was an important run," the 6-foot-2 reliever said. "So I was doing everything I could to keep that run from scoring. With the defense that we have here, it's easy for a pitcher to throw strikes, and with the bats that we have, we can erase a lead at any time. It makes it more comfortable for us to just work in the zone."
The dominance continued in the seventh when Holder fanned Byron Buxton, James Beresford and Reynaldo Rodriguez. Holder took it to the next level an inning later, needing only 13 pitches to get three swinging strikeouts against Kennys Vargas, Twins No. 15 prospect Adam Walker and No. 20 prospect Daniel Palka.
Holder's streak reached double digits in the ninth with his second strikeouts of Tovar and Reginatto. The Red Wings finally put a ball in play against the 2014 sixth-round pick when Murphy reached on an infield single.
Holder had no time to reflect on the end of the streak as Buxton stepped to the plate as the potential tying run in a game that could send the RailRiders to the postseason. After Buxton -- who'd homered in each of his previous four games -- fouled off the first three pitches, Holder froze him with one on the inner half.
"That was tricky because it brought up Buxton, who's a phenomenal hitter and he was the tying run," Holder said. "I had to really focus and lock in to get that final out and get us into the playoffs. Having seen that the [Double-A] Trenton Thunder clinched last night and be a part of this has been a great experience. It's been phenomenal."
Holder was called up on July 21 after posting a 2.20 ERA and 0.83 WHIP over 41 innings for Trenton. The Mississippi State product has excelled since the promotion, allowing seven hits and walking none in 20 1/3 innings while compiling a 0.89 ERA and 0.34 WHIP for the RailRiders.
In his first start back from the disabled list, Bryan Mitchell allowed an unearned run on four hits and two walks with eight strikeouts over 3 2/3 innings.
After hitting a solo homer in the fourth, Scranton/Wilkes-Barre's Chris Parmelee broke a 1-1 tie in the sixth with an RBI single against his former team.
Rochester's Jason Wheeler (11-5) surrendered three runs on six hits and two walks while striking out three in seven innings.