Thanks to a familiar face, Blake Schwartz was able to settle in on Wednesday night. The results were pretty much the same as they've been all season.
Making his Carolina League debut, Schwartz allowed three hits and struck out five over six innings as the Potomac Nationals blanked the Carolina Mudcats, 2-0, at Five County Stadium.
Schwartz (1-0) needed only 63 pitches in matching the longest outing of his brief career. The Minnesota native threw 46 strikes, walked one batter and faced three over the minimium.
"High-A debut, I was nervous until I kind of had a little talk with the starting catcher, Cole Leonida," Schwartz said. "We have a great relationship together, we're really good friends. He did a good job of calming me down, he called a real good game. I put all my trust in him.
"It took all the nerves out, getting that first batter out and having a quick first [inning]. After that, you realize it's just baseball. After the first inning, I settled down, stopped leaving balls up and got my pitches down in the zone."
Schwartz, who throws a four-seam fastball, curveball, circle-change and cut fastball, worked with Leonida briefly last year at Class A Hagerstown, where he was 1-1 with a 3.05 ERA in seven starts.
"It helped a lot," Schwartz said." I threw to him a couple of times last year. He knows my stuff, he knows how I work, we have a good off-the-field relationship, we hang out and go to Bible study together. Being on the same page as your catcher, it does wonders. Every pitch he threw down is what I wanted to throw. It helps tremendously when you don't have to second-guess your catcher."
Schwartz got the news of his promotion earlier this week in an unlikely place.
"I was in Hagerstown, we had a four-game set in West Virginia, the manager [Tripp Keister] called me up in front of the bus to congratulate me and tell me I was heading to Potomac," he recalled. "It was a whirlwind of events, it was exciting. It's kind of weird because everyone knows you got moved up. I was actually going to the back of the bus to play cards and the manager grabbed me and brought me to the front. It was pretty joyous."
A 17th-round pick by the Nationals in last year's Draft, Schwartz moved up to Potomac after making four appearances (one start) in the South Atlantic League. He was 2-0 with one save, a 1.26 ERA and 21 strikeouts over 14 1/3 innings for the Suns, limiting opponents to five hits and two walks. And the reason for his early success is no mystery to the 23-year-old right-hander.
"Honestly, [it's] nothing crazy," Schwartz said. "It comes down to strike one and fastball command. I'm a heavy fastball guy, I throw 75-80 percent fastballs. I feel like I have a curveball that's an out pitch that I can throw 0-2, 1-2 if I really need a strikeout. It's amazing when you go 0-1 what you can do to hitters. When you go 0-1, you grab whatever corner you want, you can flip over a curveball."
Tyler Herron took over for Schwartz and allowed two hits over two innings. Derek Self pitched around a hit and a walk in the ninth to earn his first Carolina League save.
Kevin Keyes provided the game's only offense, drilling a two-run homer in the fourth inning that blew out one of the bulbs on the left field light pole.
Francisco Lindor, the Indians' top prospect, doubled in four at-bats for the Mudcats.