Through 14 starts, Dan Straily leads the Minor Leagues with 108 strikeouts. But in his latest outing, he preferred getting his outs on the ground on what was almost a perfect Friday evening.
The A's prospect did not allow a baserunner for 6 2/3 innings before giving up a home run to San Antonio's Jonathan Galvez. That was the only hit Straily surrendered while striking out nine over a season-eight frames.
San Antonio, however, rallied for five runs in the ninth and handed the Midland RockHounds a 6-2 defeat.
But the biggest number of the night for the 23-year-old right-hander wasn't his high strikeout count or the innings he pitched. Instead, Straily pointed to his 14-to-1 groundout-to-flyout ratio as the reason for his almost historic success.
"I've never had that many ground balls in my life," said Straily, who had never posted a groundout-to-flyout ratio higher than 2.67. And that came on July 7, 2009 for short-season Vancouver.
Between the second and fourth innings, the 2009 24th-round Draft pick recorded seven of the nine outs on the ground.
"It was all about fastball command, man," Straily said. "I was throwing it really well down and away tonight, and that was something I kept coming back to. It was getting back to the basics of baseball. ... It allowed me to throw my slider away and fool some guys and it set up my changeup pretty well, too. I just kept pounding that fastball low, and the results came."
The Marshall University product knew he was working on a perfect game after the fifth inning, when his teammates started avoiding him in the dugout.
"No one talked to me," he said. "And then when I came back after the sixth, there were five spots on the bench completely open next to me."
On one of the few occasions Straily did not keep his fastball down in the strike zone, he paid the price. After retiring 20 consecutive batters, he left a heater over the plate to Galvez, who deposited the offering over the left-field wall.
Straily did not regret the pitch, despite what might have been.
"I just left one pitch up and in the zone. That's baseball," he said. "I threw it over the middle of the plate, but I thought I hit my spot. That's the thing -- hitters don't miss here, so things like that are going to happen."
After Galvez's homer, Straily retired the next four Missions, two on strikeouts and two on ground balls.
He's 3-4 with a 3.38 ERA in his first 14 starts for the RockHounds, the latter statistic aided by an 0.86 ERA in his last three outings. Those numbers, combined with the Minors-best 108 strikeouts, were good enough to earn him a spot on the South Division squad in the Texas League All-Star Game on June 28.
Despite a season that includes a 15-strikeout game on May 18 and a one-hit, 11-strikeout performance on June 4, Straily ranked Friday's outing as his best.
"Absolutely, I'd put it at the top," he said. "I'd rather do this every night than put up 15 strikeouts."
Straily lost his chance at a win when reliever Jonathan Ortiz surrendered five runs in the ninth on three walks and two hits -- a three-run double by Nate Freiman and a two-run homer by Ali Solis.
RockHounds first baseman Anthony Aliotti went 0-for-4 to end a 32-game on-base streak but produced the game's first run with a groundout in the opening inning.