When Arizona sent its top prospect to Minor League camp last month, the message from the coaching staff and front office was clear.
You're almost ready. You're close. Stay confident and your command will be fine.
Whether high levels of confidence foster repeatable mechanics or vice versa, Tyler Skaggs took the message to heart. In his season debut Sunday, he scattered four hits while striking out four batters and issuing a pair of walks over six scoreless innings as the Triple-A Reno Aces cruised to a 14-1 rout of the Colorado Springs Sky Sox.
That outing, along with his next start against Sacramento next week, could go a long way toward proving just how Major League-ready Skaggs is.
"I'm exactly where I was at this point last season when I got called up," he said. "I'm close, I'm throwing the ball well right now and I'm almost there. I think I'm ready to go out there and perform.
"They said, 'Go down there and get your confidence back and throw the ball well.' Everything they said was encouraging."
MLB.com's No. 10 overall prospect knows he needs to polish his game in the hitter-friendly Pacific Coast League before he can return to Arizona, but he also doesn't intend to stay here too long.
He knows how close he is. Now he just needs to convince the decision-makers above him.
Against the Sky Sox, Skaggs (1-0) set the side down in order just once, but he only allowed two baserunners to reach second base. Just one -- Ben Paulsen in the fifth inning -- made it to third base, but he was stranded when Skaggs recorded back-to-back strikeouts.
"I threw the ball well and it gave me a chance to work on a few more things, just a few mechanical things," the 21-year-old left-hander said. "I walked the first guy on four pitches, then really focused on my mechanics.
"[In the fifth inning], it was important to put up a zero because the game was still close ... The key to success was keeping them off-balance."
Those mechanics generated much talk during Spring Training. Some speculated the battle for the final spot in the D-backs' rotation caused Skaggs to try to be too perfect, forcing him to vary his motion and compromise his command. He went 0-2 with an 11.00 ERA in four appearances, including two starts, yielding 16 runs -- 11 earned -- on 14 hits and eight walks over nine innings. Cactus League opponents hit a robust .350 against him.
Skaggs said on Sunday that he wasn't overwhelmed by the competition or by the prospect of making Arizona's Opening Day roster.
"I wouldn't say [overwhelmed], I was just trying too hard to impress them," said Skaggs, who was 1-3 with a 5.83 ERA in six big league starts last year. "Just sometimes I get excited and I start rushing, especially when I get ahead in the count. I want to strike the guy out and so I start rushing down the hill and I leave the ball up."
Skaggs exited afer six scoreless frames, at least an inning earlier than he would have liked, considering his pitch count was at 82. But he knows he'll have the chance to go deeper as the season goes along.
The 2009 first-round pick believes he'll be limited to six innings against Sacramento next week, after which the Aces will allow him to pitch as long as he's effective.
"I wanted to stay in, but early in the season I'm only allowed to go six. I'm just looking forward to getting free rein after my next start," Skaggs said.
Warner Madrigal struck out two over two hitless innings in relief of Skaggs and Will Harris surrendered a run on four hits in the ninth.
Tyler Bortnick went 3-for-5 with four RBIs and three runs scored, while Mark Teahen and Kila Ka'aihue each collected three hits and drove in a run for Reno.
Colorado Springs starter Nick Schmidt (0-1) took the loss after giving up four runs on eight hits and a walk while striking out four batters over 3 1/3 frames.