Tyler Wagner wasn't there to help Double-A Huntsville capture the Southern League North Division first-half title, nor was he around to help the team in the second half. He was with Class A Advanced Brevard County, going 13-6 with a 1.86 ERA in 25 starts.
But on Sunday, he was there to help the Stars when they needed it most.
The Brewers' No. 14 prospect surrendered only two hits and a walk and struck out four over six innings in his Double-A debut to lead Huntsville to a 4-0 win over Chattanooga in Game 4 of the best-of-5 Southern League semifinals. The win forced a decisive Game 5 at Chattanooga's AT&T Field on Monday.
"I didn't have any doubts that I could pitch at this level when I got promoted," Wagner said. "But at the same time, it's nice to see some results too. All I was thinking was that it's the same game here as it was down there. I just had to pitch the same way I had all year long."
Known for his quick work on the mound, Wagner didn't waste much time settling into a groove. Thanks to a pair of double plays, the 23-year-old right-hander faced one above the minimum and needed only 63 pitches (41 strikes) to complete his six frames before reaching his innings limit. He credited his low-90s sinking fastball, which was graded at 60 by MLB.com, for his string of zeros.
"A lot of it was working ahead with fastball," he said. "I was able to establish the fastball early and let everything kind of fall into place from there. The changeup and slider were in the zone too, but it all comes from establishing the fastball. When you're able to throw all three pitches in the same counts, it makes it tough for them to know what's coming."
The Stars needed a strong start from Wagner against Chattanooga right-hander Matt Shelton, who retired the first 12 Huntsville batters he faced. The budding pitching duel didn't have much of an impact on how Wagner approached his Double-A bow.
"I didn't even realize what he had going on until about the fourth or fifth," he said. "I don't pay much attention to what the other guy is doing, just because I am focused on what I can control. I don't think it affects me too much, to be honest."
Huntsville got to Shelton in the fifth when Hector Gimenez singled to lead off the frame and Erik Komatsu smacked an RBI double two batters later. The Stars tacked on three insurance runs off reliever Blake Smith in the eighth on a run-scoring double by Nick Ramirez and RBI base hits by Robinzon Diaz and Tyrone Taylor.
No. 16 Brewers prospect David Goforth allowed only one hit over the game's final three innings to earn his first save of the postseason.
The victory preserved the existence of Huntsville Stars baseball for at least one more game, with the club set to move to Biloxi ahead of the 2015 season. That's not the focus of the players, though. This particular group of Brewers prospects is hoping to get one more win, so they can face either Mobile or Jacksonville with a ring on the line.
"We've been positive every day, at least every day that I've been here," Wagner said. "Just take things day by day, that's the mentality we've had, even when we're down. And that's the same we'll look at tomorrow. Just win that game before any other stuff can happen."
In other Southern League action:
Jacksonville 4, Mobile 1, suspended
Joe Benson and Isaac Galloway hit RBI singles in a four-run fourth inning for the Suns before play was suspended due to rain with two outs in the fifth. The game will resume at noon on Monday, with Jacksonville needing one win to advance to the Championship Series. Gameday box score