After sitting by and just watching the Class A Shorebirds pound the baseball for the first four games of his full-season Minor League career, Zac Lowther trusted his new teammates to provide plenty of offensive support when he took the mound for the first time Monday night.
But Delmarva didn't have to do any that. With six hitless innings and a career-high 13 strikeouts, Baltimore's No. 17 prospect only needed a single run in a 1-0 shutout of Hickory at Arthur W. Perdue Stadium.
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Lowther, the 74th pick taken by the Orioles in the second competitive balance round of last summer's Draft, faced just one batter over the minimum. He issued a walk to Kole Enright in the third inning before retiring the final 11 batters he faced to reach his 80-pitch limit. He struck out seven of them.
"I felt comfortable from the start," the 21-year-old lefty said. "Watching our first four games and getting the first series under our belts, I saw hitters and knew the guys behind me would get runs in. I just wanted to throw as many strikes as I could, have as many short innings as I could and get in and out as quickly as possible."
After Lowther exited after the end of the sixth, Delmarva carried the no-hit bid into the eighth when Sam Huff singled to left field with one out off Alex Katz. That was all the lefty reliever allowed over two frames before southpaw Zach Muckenhirn walked one and struck out one en route to his first save.
The game's only run went up on the board in the fourth. After Will Robertson walked and stole second base, he crossed the plate when T.J. Nichting reached on first baseman Huff's fielding error. That helped give the Shorebirds a 5-0 start for the first time since the squad's inaugural 1996 season, when they opened 6-0.
The four consecutive wins -- with 38 runs combined in the last three -- helped Lowther zero in on his offseason mantra: Throw as many strikes as possible and make the hitters do the work.
And the slowly rising pressure of a no-hit bid was no secret to Lowther as he remembered his last one vividly. At the start of his junior season with Xavier last April, Lowther took a perfect game into the ninth at Villanova. He gave up a walk to begin the final frame, exited after 119 pitches and the Musketeers eventually fell, 3-2.
Lowther said that experience, along with talks this offseason with both college and pro ball coaches, emphasized the importance of staying within himself on the mound.
It was a lesson he worked on during Spring Training. Lowther embraced the opportunity and the early warmth, especially after frigid Midwest winters tended to keep Xavier off the field until the first pitch of the season. He often caught himself trying to throw beyond his limits. The unfamiliar heat loosened him up more than Lowther was used to, and the starter with a fastball that peaks around 90 mph had to take a step back with his attemped velocity.
"I don't overpower people. ... I wanted to throw hard, but I'm ineffective that way. I had to corral what I was doing," he said. "Spring was new, but in the end, it's still baseball."
Should his hot start continue, Lowther could follow in the footsteps of the Shorebirds' last lefty hurler who wore No. 31. Just a season ago, Alex Wells, Baltimore's No. 11 prospect, went 11-5 with a 2.38 ERA for Delmarva and nabbed the Orioles' Minor League Pitcher of the Year award. Wells, now with Class A Advanced Frederick, fanned 113 while walking just 10 in 140 innings.
For now, Lowther knows well he can't find himself looking ahead.
"I'm just trying to go out there and compete every day I take the mound and take advantage of as many opportunities as I can and work my butt off in those starts," he said. "I don't have control over anything else but to stay in the moment and not look forward.
"I did a good job with that tonight. I just wanted to put zeros up on the scoreboard and give my team the best chance to win."