Rios celebrates in a big way for Lugnuts

Blue Jays prospect pitches 5 2/3 one-hit innings, fans career-high 10

Francisco Rios struck out 10 of the 20 batters he faced on Friday night. (Kyle Castle/Lansing Lugnuts)

By Michael Leboff / MiLB.com | May 6, 2016 11:37 PM

As of Friday, Francisco Rios (2-0) is legally able to buy a drink in the United States. He definitely earned one.

The Blue Jays prospect celebrated his 21st birthday by allowing one hit and recording a career-high 10 strikeouts over 5 2/3 innings as Class A Lansing blanked visiting Quad Cities, 6-0. 

"It's a very special day for me," Rios said. "Yesterday [Cinco de Mayo], was a great and important day in Mexico and today is important for me, so I feel so happy to do so well on this day."

The 21-year-old right-hander got off to a flying start for the Lugnuts, striking out the side in the top of the first. All three punchouts came on swing-and-misses. After walking Connor Goedert leading off the second, he fanned the next three batters. 

"I am so happy right now because I am working so hard in my first long season," Rios said. "And it is great that I am starting the season well and the work is paying off."

The Mexico native built his successful start by changing levels with his fastball and using all parts of the strike zone to keep the River Bandits off-balance. 

"The fastball away and the fastball up and in were working all night for me," he said. "And when I was ahead in the count, I could use the slider in the dirt." 

Rios (2-0) spent all of 2015 with Class A Short Season Vancouver, where he was 3-6 with a 4.27 ERA in 15 games, including 12 starts. He's made a seamless transition to full-season ball, allowing four earned runs in 30 innings for Lansing.

"In the short season, you can rest at times," he said. "But at this level, you need to work hard every day. We are practicing or working hard on something every day, like our mechanics or fastball command. I am also working on developing my changeup to complement my fastball and slider."

The 6-foot-1, 180-pounder not only is working hard on adjusting to a new level but also to a new language and culture. He said the Lugnuts coaching staff and batterymate Ryan Hissey have done wonders to ease the transition.

"My teammates work so hard behind me and my catcher knows the game so well," Rios said. "Every start, the coaches just tell me to be aggressive and get ahead with the first pitch."

Now that the business part of his birthday is over, Rios said he's looking forward to the celebratory meal that awaits him at home.

"I am going to go celebrate with my paisanos and my house family," he said. "We are going to eat a great dinner to celebrate my birthday, Cinco de Mayo and this game."

Josh DeGraaf and Colton Turner combined to work the final 3 1/3 innings, striking out two apiece, to complete the Lugnuts' fifth shutout of the season.

Juan Kelly hit Lansing's first home run since April 24 when he took Ralph Garza deep for a solo shot in the seventh. The 21-year-old catcher also hit the Lugnuts' last long ball. 

Michael Leboff is a contributor to MiLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.

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