Ask Shane McClanahan what stood out about his Class A Advanced Charlotte debut Wednesday, and his answer is quick and decisive. It's the first time his parents, James and Lisa, got to see him pitch as a pro.
"When the game starts, I'm focused on what I have to do, but I always know they're there rooting for me," said McClanahan, who grew up on Florida's Gulf coast in Cape Coral. "I want to go out and do the best I can for them, whenever something like this happens."
In front of his parents, the 22-year-old left-hander certainly made himself look at home in the Florida State League.
The Rays' No. 11 prospect struck out a career-high 10 and scattered six hits and two walks over 5 1/3 scoreless innings Wednesday, but Charlotte fell, 2-1, to Bradenton in seven innings at LECOM Park. He threw 84 pitches, 57 of which were for strikes.
Gameday box score
The 10 punchouts bested McClanahan's previous high of nine, established on four different occasions with Class A Bowling Green including most recently over 5 2/3 innings at Lake County on May 17. McClanahan left the Midwest League as the circuit's leader in strikeout rate (33.2 percent) and had no issues carrying his K-heavy ways to the FSL, thanks to low-to-mid-90s fastball and plus slider.
"It came down to throwing a lot of strikes, I think," said the 2018 31st overall pick, who also posted a 3.40 ERA in 53 innings with the Hot Rods before his promotion. "We also changed up a lot of different sequences. [Catcher Ronaldo Hernandez], I gotta hand it to him, he called a great game back there. I owe a lot of my success today to him and my other teammates making the plays behind me. This wasn't just me."
Video: Crabs' McClanahan fans 10th
McClanahan did have to earn his zero in the runs column, given the way he had to pitch out of jams multiple times Wednesday. The Stone Crabs starter gave up back-to-back singles to open the second inning but escaped by striking out three of the next four Marauders he faced (with a walk mixed in to load the bases). He worked around a pair of one-out singles in the fourth by striking out Jesse Medrano and Chase Lambert to end the threat and stranded Daniel Amaral at third after a leadoff double and sac bunt in the fifth by retiring Chris Sharpe (strikeout) and Robbie Glendinning (flyout to center). He fanned Cal Mitchell to open the sixth, but was taken out after walking Dylan Busby on four pitches one batter later.
Still, Bradenton batters went 0-for-9 with eight strikeouts, a walk and a sacrifice bunt against McClanahan throughout the afternoon.
"I kept telling myself, OK, this is where I really need to execute," McClanahan said of his early jams. "Trust my defense. Trust my pitches. Trust my ability. I kept saying he's not going to score. He may have gotten that far, but he's not going to score."
One of the biggest growths McClanahan has exhibited through two months of his first full season has been in the control department. With his special arsenal from the left side, the University of South Florida standout was seen as one of the most promising hurlers in the 2018 Draft in terms of stuff, but his stock dropped some in part because of his 5.7 BB/9 in his final collegiate season.
He experienced some of those control woes again early in 2019, most notably in his second Bowling Green start on April 10 when he walked three and only recorded one out at Lake County. Since that time, he's worked in between starts on staying centered on the rubber and working to develop a better load with his leg kick, and the results are showing. Including his final two starts at Bowling Green, McClanahan has walked only five over 16 1/3 innings in his last three appearances. He has 23 strikeouts over that same span.
"I'll be honest, it's just about feeling comfortable with myself as the season goes along," McClanahan said. "I'm getting a better feel for my pitches, getting more comfortable and confident in myself the farther I've been getting into the season. ... I used [that Lake County start] as a chip on my shoulder. I never like losing, especially for my teammates and especially in that way, and I know it'll take strikes to make sure that doesn't happen again."
Though it be a pitcher-friendly circuit, the Florida State League should test McClanahan's newfound ability to throw strikes as he faces more patient hitters with better batting eyes than the ones he saw in the Midwest League. Still, given his talent and ability to generate swings and misses with his fastball and slider, McClanahan should be well-suited to take on the challenge of the second level of his first full season.
2019 MiLB include
"What they've been telling me mostly is to just trust myself," he said. "Trust my pitches. Trust my stuff. Trust my new teammates. I think it's working well so far. Baseball's just baseball. If I'm the same pitcher, I'll be fine."
McClanahan's debut was spoiled one inning after he was lifted when Cal Mitchell hit a two-run, walk-off homer off right-handed reliever Jack Labosky to give Bradenton its 2-1 win. The Pirates' No. 6 prospect finished the game 2-for-4 out of the fifth spot in the Marauders lineup. Earlier in the day, Charlotte won, 5-3, in the resumption of a suspended game from the night before.