For Liam Hendriks, his entire focus lately has been on what he can do early.
The Twins' No. 7 prospect began the season in the Majors, where he allowed 18 runs over 18 innings before he was optioned to Triple-A Rochester. In one of his four starts for Minnesota, he showed up late for a pregame bullpen session and the results were lacking.
When Hendriks returned to Rochester early last month, he knew immediately what he needed to focus on.
"It was one of the things they really harped on," he said. "I was showing up a little bit late and so it was one of the things they told me to work on. I just need to get out there earlier."
So the 23-year-old right-hander switched up his pregame routine to make sure he's preparing for his start 35-40 minutes before the first pitch.
On Saturday night, Hendriks allowed three hits, recorded a season-high 10 strikeouts and came within one out of a complete-game shutout as the Red Wings blanked the Indianapolis Indians, 2-0.
It was the second straight start in which the two-time Futures Game selection has not given up a run, a streak that's reached 15 2/3 innings.
Signed as a non-drafted free agent in 2007, Hendriks is 5-0 with a 1.94 ERA, which would lead the International League if he had enough innings to qualify.
Like his pregame routine, Hendriks' success on Saturday was determined by his ability to establish himself early. He threw first-pitch strikes to nine of the first 10 batters and 19 of 30 overall. That was another focus after the Twins reassigned him.
"I got ahead with my fastball a lot early, and that was a big help," Hendriks said. "It was definitely something I've been trying to work on since coming back here. Fastball command was something that got away from me earlier in the year. It was one of those things when I was trying to trick people instead of just going after them."
The Australia native's ability to attack the zone early, along with limiting the Indians to four baserunners, allowed him make it through eight innings on 110 pitches, both of which would have been season highs. After the eighth, Hendriks thought his night was over.
"I was expecting to have to fight with [Rochester manager Gene Glynn] to pitch another inning, but he didn't say anything about coming out," he said.
In the ninth, Hendriks retired Chase d'Arnaud and Gorkys Hernandez on a pop fly and a strikeout. On his 124th pitch, Pirates' No. 3 prospect Starling Marte lifted a single to right field for his second of the night. That's when Glynn came out to pull his starter.
Lester Oliveros retired Jeff Clement on a line drive to shortstop to nail down his fourth save.
"Yeah, I'd say it was my best start so far [this year]," Hendriks said. "It's the certainly the most pitches I've thrown in a game in the Minors and I still feel as good now as I did back in the first inning. So that's always good. I wish they'd let me finish, but Oliveros did a great job of shutting the door for us."
Clete Thomas went 2-for-4 and snapped a scoreless tie with a bases-loaded groundout in the seventh. Rene Rivera followed with an RBI single.