One might think a career relief pitcher would jump at the chance to start. Not Walter Borkovich, but that didn't stop the Braves prospect from excelling in the rotation.
The right-hander delivered his third straight scoreless start Thursday, allowing five hits with four strikeouts over six frames to lead Class A Advanced Florida past St. Lucie, 4-0, at First Data Field.
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Through his first 17 innings as a starter, Borkovich has not allowed a run or a walk and while striking out 12. Prior to his past three efforts, the Michigan State product made 44 appearances as a pro since being signed as an undrafted free agent on June 26, 2017.
"When I got the call, I wasn't sure. I kind of assumed it was going to be as a reliever," the 23-year-old Michigan native said. "Relieving is something I really enjoy doing, but they needed a guy [to start]."
And Borkovich (1-0) has succeeded. He made 12 starts in college, including eight as a junior, but pitched the majority of the time as a reliever. He wasn't drafted after his junior season, returned to Lansing and went 4-3 with a 2.01 ERA in 27 appearances. He didn't hear his name called again.
"I got some calls [after my junior year], but I decided to go back," he said. "I would have signed if I got drafted, but I had an up-and-down junior season and I really liked it at Michigan State. It's close to home [Traverse, Michigan], but the calls [from big league teams] weren't really there. I went back for my senior year and had a good year."
Still, the 6-foot-5 hurler had to wait until after the Draft to get a contract, and he admits that might be on his mind every now and then.
"I think about it from time to time," Borkovich said, "but at the same time we are all getting the same opportunity now. I get to see what I can do and how I compare to everyone else."
Despite his size, Borkovich uses his command to succeed. He throws a fastball, a slider and a changeup and generates a fair share of ground balls, which helps him make up for the lack of missing bats (6.4 strikeouts per nine innings in 2018).
"A lot of guys are swinging right away," he said, "so if I can throw two, three pitches and get a ground ball, that's better than a strikeout -- especially in a starting role."
St. Lucie got a runner on base against Borkovich in five of his six innings, but he used the ground ball to escape without a run. He struck out his final two batters, one of them being rehabbing Mets All-Star David Wright, who finished 0-for-3.
As much as he's thrived as a starter, Borkovich said he's looking forward to going back to the bullpen.
"As of right now, I'm open to whatever, but there's something about relieving that's a challenge," he said. "You throw back-to-back days and you have to be ready to throw every day. When you come into games, there's a runner on second and one out, and if you give up a single, that's a run.
"I have a goal, and I've got to get this guy to pop up, strike out. I kind of like having one or two goals, and you get instant feedback. I guess there's benefits to both [starting and relieving]."
The Fire Frogs opened the scoring in the third. Marcus Mooney singled home Jordan Rodgers, and an inning later, CJ Alexandercrossed the plate on a wild pitch by Blake Taylor (1-7).
Rodgers drove in a pair with a single to left field in the sixth. Braves No. 9 prospect Drew Waters added a double in five trips to the plate.