During the Triple-A All-Star break, ballplayers are free to savor their time off. They enjoy the comfort of friends and family, maybe catch up on movies or TV shows. They take the break in its most literal sense.
Dan Straily played catch with a sophomore from his old stomping grounds, Thurston High School in Springfield, Ore.
"He looked a little scared back there sometimes," joked the 23-year-old right-hander.
Don't worry, kid. The way Straily's been pitching, professional batters have been scared of him, too.
The A's prospect struck out 13 and allowed one hit -- a solo homer -- over seven innings Friday night, but Triple-A Sacramento dropped a 1-0 decision to visiting Las Vegas.
After fanning five of his six batters, Straily (3-2) knew he might have something special on his hands.
"When I got those first five, I was really feeling my fastball command," he said. "I was trying to ride it out as much as I could before the sun went down, because the lights here [at Raley Field] can get kind of weird sometimes. But I was feeling strong in those first two innings and seemed to settle into everything pretty well."
The 23-year-old right-hander struck out four more between the third and fourth innings before making his only mistake of the night to start the fifth. His first pitch of the inning was a fastball up in the zone that Eric Thames sent over the right-center field fence.
Straily retired the final nine batters in a row after the home run, four on strikes. He fell two short of the career high he established on May 18, when he fanned 15 for Double-A Midland. But the Marshall University product leads the Minor Leagues with 154 punchouts.
Coincidentally, that ties the single-season career high Straily set last year over 160 2/3 innings. He's only pitched 118 1/3 innings between Midland and Sacramento this season.
"It's really been a product of developing my pitches," said Straily, who throws a fastball, changeup and slider. "I didn't do anything too much, just worked with the A's to try to hone everything. It's crazy that I've already hit last season's mark and there's still nine more starts to go or so."
The biggest improvement may have been with the changeup, which Straily has begun to use more and more, especially against right-handed hitters. Working with A's pitching coordinator Gil Patterson, he moved back to the two-seam grip that he used more frequently in college, and the results have returned.
"It started cutting a lot all of a sudden last year," Straily said. "It was just almost impossible to throw. The batter was missing it, the catcher was missing it, everybody was missing it. Patterson, he just kind of tweaked it and it's really starting to come straight down to armside more instead of moving around."
With the improved changeup and a fastball that consistently sits in the low 90s, Straily has been able to stray from his normal strikeout pitch.
"Usually, it's been the slider," he said. "But tonight, it was more about elevation, getting guys to swing at fastballs up. For the most part, hitters are more patient with two strikes [here at Triple-A], so you have to use more than just one pitch. Don't get me wrong, I probably had four K's on the slider tonight, but last year that total would have been much higher."
Since joining Sacramento in late June, Straily has done more than strike out hitters at an alarming rate. He's 3-2 with a 1.09 ERA in five Pacific Coast League starts after going 3-4 with a 3.38 ERA in 14 starts for Midland. The ERA is tops in the PCL over that span, while his 46 strikeouts lead all Triple-A hurlers by a wide margin.
As dominant as he's been, the Texas League All-Star admits even he's taken aback by his success.
"I definitely didn't see myself at this pace," Straily said. "When I think about it, listen, I know the game has its ups and downs, but I got lucky that I got the call when I was really hot. This start is something I'm really proud of so far. Guys at this level either get it right away or they struggle. I'm just glad to be on the right end of that."