It may be small steps for Brendan McKay, but each outing has big implications for MLB.com's No. 25 overall prospect.
The Rays' fourth-ranked prospect recorded a career-high seven strikeouts over four scoreless innings, allowing only two hits, in Class A Bowling Green's 4-3 win over Lake County on Saturday at Classic Park. McKay threw only seven of 45 pitches outside the strike zone in his longest outing of the season.
Gameday box score
McKay's longest previous outing was a five-inning stint last summer for Class A Short Season Hudson Valley and the Hot Rods are trying to stretch him out. Throwing strikes is a pretty good way to do just that, and 74 percent of his pitches have been in the zone this season.
"It's more of the same ol' that he's done all season and going back to last season," Bowling Green pitching coach Brian Reith said. "I had him last year, and he attacks hitters. He uses all four pitches and he wasn't behind in the count. The first hitter of the game, he was behind the count, then he wasn't at all."
The left-hander struck out the first batter of the game and did not allow a baserunner until Michael Rivera singled with one out in the third inning. Oscar Gonzalez had the Captains' other hit off McKay, a two-out single in the fourth.
McKay, who also plays first base, did not issue a free pass on Saturday and has walked just one batter in three Midwest League starts. Last season, he walked four over 20 innings in six appearances. The 2017 first-round pick was 1-0 with a 1.86 ERA for Hudson Valley.
"He trusts his stuff, and he should," Reith said. "He has a great fastball he can locate where he wants and has good secondary pitches to set up that fastball as well. You get the whole package as far as pitching, so he should have the confidence to attack hitters. And he continues to do that."
Even with a step up to full-season ball, McKay has found ways to get batters out while playing a position in the field on days he's not on the mound. For the coaching staff, he's been consistent in both aspects.
"He's basically the same [as last season]," Reith said. "He was really polished when we got him; we've just tried to maintain that. His changeup and cutter have come loose a little bit, but he's mostly always been the same guy."
Reith and the rest of the Hot Rods staff have the unique task of working with McKay as a pitcher and a hitter. So far, he's batting .346 with three strikeouts and 13 walks.
On days he's hitting, he's not focused on pitching. For Reith, it's more of an adjustment for him and his colleagues than it is for McKay.
"It's a little bit different," Reith said. "Sometimes he does his throwing program with the position players, but I'll have him on his side day. It's a little bit unique, but we're all learning how to deal with it. He's been doing it his whole life, so he has a little more knowledge about it than we do. We go back and forth with him a lot and, hopefully, we get a situation he's comfortable with."
Riley O'Brien (1-0) earned the win with three hitless frames, striking out three.
Zacrey Law went 3-for-4 with an RBI for the Hot Rods, while Devin Davis chipped in two hits, drove in one run and scored another.