For Wyatt Marks, his Midwest League-leading strikeout total is not a product of premium velocity. It's about one thing: first-pitch strikes.
"I've really just been focusing on attacking the hitters," the Beloit right-hander said after he fanned 10 and gave up two hits over seven innings to lead the Snappers to a 1-0 victory over Burlington at Community Field on Saturday.
"I was a closer in my junior year [at the University of Louisiana-Lafayette]," the Athletics' No. 26 prospect said. "I developed a bulldog mentality or whatever you want to call it, attacking hitters. It's all about threatening hitters before they threaten you. Get them into a defensive count."
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Marks (5-6) has 127 punchouts, 12 more than Lake County's Kirk McCarty, and ranks 12th overall in the Minors.
Strikeouts are nothing new for him. As a junior in college, he totaled 100 and yielded only 29 hits in 59 1/3 innings to lead all Division I hurlers in both strikeouts (15.17) and hits per nine innings (4.40). He's transitioned to a full-time starter this season with great results.
"My coach in college [Tony Robichaux] preached about getting ahead of hitters and putting them on the defensive. He said, 'You can be the best pitcher in the world, but if you're getting behind, you're going to get hit," Marks explained.
Neither of those things have happened lately for Marks. He's yielded one run in his past 19 innings, lowering his ERA to 3.23. He needed only 85 pitches to navigate seven innings against the Bees, throwing 57 strikes.
Pitch efficiency is something he doesn't necessarily monitor, Marks said, but it does help.
"Yes and no," he said about keeping track of pitch counts, "You don't necessarily say to yourself, 'I've thrown this many pitches,' but you know when you throw a first-pitch strike and a guy rolls over on it, you know that's one pitch, and you know when you've gone deep in counts."
The Louisiana native succeeds without overpowering velocity, instead relying on a low-90s fastball that he's not afraid to use up in the strike zone with a hammer curveball that has tight spin.
Marks enjoyed great success when his velocity ticked up as a college closer, but he doesn't have a preference about starting or relieving, although he acknowledged his path to the Majors might come quicker as a reliever.
"Truthfully, it's not my call, I enjoy both of them. Both have their perks," he said. "Starting, you have a set date, and closing you get to thrown more often. It's not really my decision ... "
"I'm gonna keep on doing what they tell me to do, start or middle relief, or close. Whatever they want me to do."
Marks retired the first eight hitters Saturday before Zane Gurwitz singled in the third. He set down 10 in a row until Torii Hunter doubled leading off the seventh. But Marks punctuated his outing by getting a flyout and punching out Kevin Williams Jr. and Spencer Griffin swinging.
Jaimito Lebron worked around a walk in the eighth and Jesus Zambrano struck out the side in the ninth for his fourth save. It was the Snappers' eighth shutout of the season.
Beloit got its only run in the third when Jack Meggs led off with a single, stole second and raced home on a bae hit by Ryan Gridley.