Matthew Liberatore continued to cruise in his first full Minor League season.
The Rays' No. 5 prospect gave up three hits over six scoreless innings to win his third straight start as Class A Bowling Green beat West Michigan, 4-1, in the opener of Sunday's doubleheader at Bowling Green Ballpark. He walked two and struck out two, trimming his ERA to 2.33 through five Midwest League outings.
Video: Hot Rods' Liberatore rings up K
MLB.com's No. 47 overall prospect, Liberatore (4-0) breezed through the Whitecaps lineup, throwing only 59 pitches, including seven in the opening inning. He ran into some traffic on the bases in the second, when he issued a leadoff walk to Sam McMillan, but shortstop and top Rays prospect Wander Franco started a timely double play before Reynaldo Rivera tripled. Liberatore stranded him at third by retiring Tigers No. 8 prospect Parker Meadows on a popup to Franco.
In the third, the left-hander again allowed the leadoff batter to reach, this time on a single by Zach Malis. One out later, he picked off Malis and retired seven of the last nine Whitecaps he faced. It was his fourth start in which he's yielded one run or fewer.
Gameday box score
Liberatore said the early baserunners only made him work harder.
"I tell myself, 'He's not going to score. He's not going to move further than the base he's at,'" he said. "I crank the intensity up and bear down."
The Glendale, Arizona, native had a 0.93 ERA and 104 strikeouts in his senior season at Mountain Ridge High School before signing for just under $3.5 million as the 16th overall pick in last year's Draft. In between, he pitched six shutout innings for the U.S. National Team in the World Cup gold medal game against Korea and was named Arizona's Gatorade Player of the Year.
After making nine starts last summer in the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League and for Rookie Advanced Princeton, Liberatore debuted with the Hot Rods on May 15 and threw five scoreless innings against South Bend. Sunday's outing gave him a .181 opponents' batting average and 23 strikeouts over 27 innings.
Asked how he's made such a seamless transition to full-season ball, Liberatore kept it simple.
"I've put in the preparation my whole life," he said. "My intensity and focus on the field though, that's been a big factor in what I do and how I've been feeling lately."
2019 MiLB include
Bowling Green scored all of its runs in the sixth, with Seaver Whalen lifting a sacrifice fly and Ford Proctor delivering an RBI double. Chris Betts raced home on a passed ball and Proctor scored on a wild pitch.
Rivera accounted for the Whitecaps' lone run, crushing a solo homer in the seventh off reliever Trey Cumbie. West Michigan starter Gio Arriera (2-4) gave up four runs -- two earned -- on five hits and five walks with five strikeouts in 5 2/3 frames.
The Hot Rods completed the sweep with a 3-2 triumph as Franco ripped an RBI triple and scored in a two-run first.