Wilborn comfortable in return to Loons

Dodgers farmhand allows one hit, fans five over 6 2/3 innings

By Sam Dykstra / Special to MLB.com | August 4, 2012 7:58 PM ET

The characters from Cheers had a Boston bar. Greg Wilborn has Midland, Mich., a place where everyone knows his name.

"Everywhere I go here, I bump into somebody," said the 25-year-old left-hander, who's spending part of a third season with Class A Great Lakes. "Like I'll be walking into the grocery store and someone will stop and say, 'Hey, Greg, how's it going?' It's nice to know that the community has your back."

Wilborn gave all of his friends a treat Saturday night.

The Dodgers prospect allowed one hit and struck out five over 6 2/3 innings in his best start of the year, but the Loons fell, 6-5, after Dayton scored six times in the eighth and ninth.

The only hit Wilborn (1-1) surrendered came to the second batter he faced as Jefry Sierra singled to right field. He retired the next nine batters and allowed only four baserunners -- walking three batters and hitting another -- before being lifted in the seventh.

It was Wilborn's longest outing since going seven innings for Class A Advanced Rancho Cucamonga on April 14, 2011.

"Getting ahead with the fastball was really big tonight," the New Mexico native said. "The breaking stuff [slider and changeup] were working pretty well, too, so I was able to get some quick outs early. Plus, the team got me some runs early, too, and it's always easier pitching with a lead."

It was Wilborn's fourth start since rejoining the Loons on July 16. He started the season in the California League for the second year in a row but posted a 9.18 ERA and 2.10 WHIP while working mostly out of the bullpen for the first time since his rookie campaign.

"Commanding my pitches and working ahead weren't really things I was doing earlier when I was struggling," Wilborn said. "Once you do all of that and pitch to contact, it makes everything else easier. I've just been trusting my catcher to call a great game and my defense to play well instead of trying to be too fine. That's what hurt me."

A three-game stint in the Rookie-level Arizona League seemed to turned things around as he compiled a 2.25 ERA and 1.25 WHIP. When a spot on the Loons' staff opened last month, Wilborn found himself back at the Dow Diamond, where he owned a 6-2 record and a 2.20 ERA.

"I feel really comfortable here," he said. "It's a great stadium and it's nice to have good fans like these behind you."

Saturday was the Louisiana-Lafayette product's second start at Great Lakes this season after allowing six runs -- five earned -- on six hits in five innings on July 25 against Dayton. The difference? Six strikeouts and five walks, both of which indicate longer counts.

That's something Wilborn won't try to repeat, especially if he wants his latest stint in the Midwest League to be his last.

"I have to keep pitching to contact, attack the zone, let the defense help me out," he said. "You never know exactly where they're going to hit it, but I've had more success when I'm pitching to the bat instead of going for strikeouts."

Darnell Sweeney clubbed homers in his first two at-bats and James Baldwin and O'Koyea Dickson added solo blasts -- the latter's coming on a broken bat -- to give the Loons a 5-0 lead.

But the Dragons scored six times -- three on a pair of triples by Juan Perez -- in their final two at-bats against a quartet of relievers to stun the Loons.

"We just let it get away from us there in the end," Wilborn said. "That stuff happens, but we can't let it get to us for too long."

Sam Dykstra is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.

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