Trevor Clifton's second season with Double-A Tennessee didn't get off to an illustrious beginning. The Cubs No. 27 prospect had allowed eight earned runs over 10 innings to take the loss in his first two starts.
But Clifton righted the ship Monday, pitching five scoreless innings in the Smokies' 4-2 victory over the Biscuits at Riverwalk Stadium. He yielded a single, a walk and hit a batter.
Video: Trevor Clifton punches out Palacios
The 2013 12th-round pick credited the gameplan he and catcher Ian Rice implemented during the game.
"[In the] second inning, I realized I hadn't thrown a lot of fastballs up," Clifton said. "So we kind of changed it and went to fastballs up. We just mixed it really well to curveball down, fastball up or fastball down, curveball up. We stuck with just changing the eye level of the hitters."
Gameday box score
The Maryville, Tennessee native retired the first five batters he faced before plunking Michael Brosseau with two outs in the second, but Rice caught Brosseau stealing to end the inning. When Jermaine Palacios led off the third with a single, Clifton responded by picking him off. The Cubs organization has been preaching the importance of holding baserunners and controlling the opposing team's running game to its younger pitchers.
"We worked on that in Spring Training," Clifton said. "Just holding the ball a little longer, the baserunner gets impatient, so I feel like I did a good job of just holding them on and changing my looks."
The right-hander then issued a walk to Michael Russell, but responded with two strikeouts to end the frame. That began a streak of eight consecutive batters set down by the 22-year-old before his exit following the fifth.
Clifton's strong finish differed from his previous outing. Against Jackson last Thursday, he pitched four perfect innings before imploding in the fifth, recording two outs in the frame with five runs ultimately charged to his ledger. Determined not to falter in the fifth Monday, the 6-foot-4, 170-pound righty concentrated on running more between starts to improve his stamina, increasing his total mileage and sprinkling in sprint workouts more frequently.
"I got tired [last week]," he said. "This week, I just busted my butt and ran a little bit more and paced myself for that fifth inning. Tonight was good. I felt like I was strong. I didn't get as tired. I think I need to take the running into next week too."
Clifton wound up facing one over the minimum, inducing five groundouts and throwing 47 of his 75 pitches for strikes. The two-time midseason All-Star said he took advantage of a pitcher-friendly strike zone and added he felt lucky certain pitches that missed the target were not hit harder.
"Me and my pitching coach [Terry Clark], we've been working in the bullpen a lot just to try and get me back to where I was," he said. "I think, really, it all comes from my work that's outside the outing. I think it's just in my bullpen working on my stuff. And it built confidence going into tonight. I just got to build off what I did tonight and bring that into my next bullpen and then bring the bullpen into my next outing. It's a five-day process."
With the temperature hovering in the mid-50s in Montgomery, Clifton noticed the unusually cool elements only after he exited the game.
"I guess once you get all amped up and you start throwing in the bullpen and stuff you don't realize how cold it is," he said. "But once I came out of the game, I did realize how cold it was. I don't know if it affected me that much because I wasn't thinking about it."
Tennessee carried a one-hit shutout into the eighth after righty reliever Craig Brooks delivered two perfect innings.
Zack Short, Chicago's 22nd-ranked prospect, knocked a two-run single and scored a run.
Thomas Milone got the Biscuits on the board with an RBI groundout.