Forrest Whitley journeyed to an inning he had not reached in more than two years Wednesday night. The result was one of his best starts of an otherwise trying season.Houston's second-ranked prospect allowed one hit and struck out eight over a season-high 5 1/3 frames as Double-A Corpus Christi edged
Forrest Whitley journeyed to an inning he had not reached in more than two years Wednesday night. The result was one of his best starts of an otherwise trying season.
Houston's second-ranked prospect allowed one hit and struck out eight over a season-high 5 1/3 frames as Double-A Corpus Christi edged Arkansas, 2-1, at Whataburger Field.
Whitley (2-2) kept the Travelers out of the hit column until Logan Taylor singled to lead off the sixth inning. The 21-year-old got Donnie Walton to sky a ball to left fielder Bryan De La Cruz, recording an out in the sixth for the first time since Aug. 17, 2017.
"His last two outings have been a lot better," Hooks pitching coach Graham Johnson said. "He's learning to use his entire arsenal while continuing to mature as a pitcher. He's so talented and so good that he's been able to do a lot of things one way on the mound and get away with it. That needed to change. I think he's really growing as a pitcher."
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Whitley retired the first six batters he faced before he walked Mike Ahmed to begin the third. MLB.com's No. 17 overall prospect helped himself with a pickoff before issuing a second free pass to Nick Zammarelli III and another to Taylor to load the bases. Whitley wriggled out of the jam and kicked off a stretch of five consecutive strikeouts in the fourth by whiffing three of Seattle's top prospects -- No. 1 Jarred Kelenic, seventh-ranked Cal Raleigh and No. 10 Kyle Lewis.
"He was good all night mixing his pitches up, but in that inning and the ensuing two hitters was probably the best sequencing and timing I've seen from him since he's been back here," Johnson said. "Coming off of a tough inning [in the third], it was nice to see and very impressive."
The right-hander was lifted after issuing his fourth walk to Jordan Cowan on his season-high 96th pitch -- the second-highest count of Whitley's career. He threw 98 over 5 2/3 innings for Class A Advanced Buies Creek on July 15, 2017.
The 17th overall pick in the 2016 Draft broke out during his first full-season campaign, finishing 5-4 with a 2.83 ERA and 143 strikeouts in 92 1/3 innings across three levels. A suspension and two stints on the injured list limited Whitley to eight starts in 2018. He was assigned to Triple-A Round Rock to begin the year, but struggled to a 12.21 ERA in eight appearances. Shoulder fatigue sent him to the IL on May 29 and he did not pitch competitively again until he returned in a rehab start in the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League on July 12.
Whitley has compiled a 3-7 record with a 7.80 ERA in 17 outings, including 14 starts, in 2019.
"I think he got caught using his pitches in a certain way early in the season," Johnson said. "Battling through the injury itself didn't help. That certainly wasn't the only reason [for his struggles], but it kept him from executing on the mound and probably affected him mentally too. It's been a little bit of everything this year."
Like most tall pitchers -- Whitley stands 6-foot-7 -- consistency repeating mechanics can be an ongoing battle.
"There are a lot of moving parts and he's got to work on refining them," Johnson said. "It can be tricky for pitchers like Forrest, but he's getting better and better at it. Honestly, he throws a lot of strikes. I think he gets hurt in some cases because his stuff is so good that the hitters' natural reaction is to be even more patient. They're not chasing those close pitches we'd classify as 'pitcher's pitches.' It drives his pitch count up and leads to a few more walks than he'd like."
Colton Shaver's two-run homer in the fourth held up for the Hooks. Despite surrendering a run in the seventh, Yohan Ramirez preserved the lead by allowing one hit and two walks with three strikeouts over the final 3 2/3 innings.
Arkansas' Ljay Newsome (3-3) was charged with two runs on three hits and a walk while striking out six over six innings. Seattle's No. 29 prospect sports a 2.22 ERA in eight Texas League starts.
Lewis scored the Travelers' lone run when Ramirez uncorked his first of two wild pitches in the seventh.
Michael Avallone is a contributor to MiLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @MavalloneMiLB.