With a 1.94 ERA entering Wednesday's game, it would seem difficult for Jonathan Hernandez to pitch any better. But he did.
The 13th-ranked Rangers prospect matched his career high with 11 strikeouts and allowed two hits over eight innings in his longest Minor League start as Class A Advanced Down East blanked Buies Creek, 1-0, at Grainger Stadium. He walked one and fanned 11 for the second time in three starts in winning his fourth consecutive decision. It was his third straight outing with double-digit strikeouts and the fifth of his career.
"Tonight, I was able to execute the plan I put together with [pitching coach Steve Mintz] and my catcher [Rangers No. 23 prospect Matt Whatley]," Hernandez said. "That's been the biggest key for me this season ... my execution. I'm throwing strikes when I need to and throwing it off the plate when I need to. It's different trying to throw strikes and trying to get a guy to chase. That's what I'm continuing to learn."
Gameday box score
Locked in a duel with Astros No. 27 prospect Brett Adcock, Hernandez (4-2) gave up a single to 24th-ranked J.J. Matijevic in the third inning and a double to No. 28 prospect Abraham Toro in the fourth. He retired 11 straight until Kristian Trompiz walked with one out in the eighth, but the right-hander struck out Troy Sieber and Carlos Canelon to complete eight innings on 94 pitches, 62 for strikes.
Hernandez extended his scoreless streak to 14 innings and lowered his ERA to 1.66, good for second in the Carolina League behind Carolina's Cameron Roegner, who has a 1.41 ERA in 10 starts. His 73 strikeouts are tied for the third in the Minor Leagues, who behind Bruce Zimmermann of Class A Rome.
"The command of my fastball has been really good," Hernandez said. "I had it working last year, too, but I worked hard in the offseason to prepare myself to have a year like I'm having. I hope to continue it. But with the strikeouts ... what can I say? They just come. My goal is to go out there, throw strikes and get outs as quickly as I can to give my team a chance to win the game."
The 6-foot-2, 175-pounder went 5-11 with a 4.03 ERA and 110 strikeouts in 111 2/3 innings for Class A Hickory and Down East in 2017. He's surrendered two runs or fewer seven times through nine starts this season and has an 0.87 WHIP while holding opponents to a .162 average.
"So far this year, all four of my pitches have been great," Hernandez said. "I'm able to work both sides of the plate pretty well. Also, being able to throw my slider and curveball when I've been behind in the count has been a big help. Moving the ball in and out is a tough process, but that's what I'm trying to learn and I feel like I'm getting better at it."
Rangers No. 19 prospect C.D. Pelham worked around a hit in the ninth to notch his league-leading ninth save.
Brendon Davis -- Texas' 28th-ranked prospect -- doubled home Andretty Cordero with the game's only run in the seventh. Davis singled earlier and was the only player on either team with multiple hits.
Adcock had a 5.89 ERA in his previous three starts, but the 22-year-old southpaw blanked Down East on two hits and no walks with six strikeouts in five innings. His fifth scoreless appearance of the season lowered his overall ERA to 2.22, two spots behind Hernandez.
"It's amazing to be in a pitchers' duel like that," said the Memphis-born Hernandez. "We pitched against each other last year and also [on May 3]. Battling 1-on-1 and watching the other pitcher trying to do what you're doing is a fun experience to be in."
Astros No. 29 prospect Brandon Bailey (1-5) allowed an unearned run, two hits and four walks while fanning two in 2 2/3 frames out of the bullpen.