On the surface, Luis Santos' outing on Wednesday looked like a knockout. According to his pitching coach, however, it was a gutsy performance that resulted in a win by decision.
The Royals prospect allowed one hit and struck out seven over seven innings for his second win in as many starts for Rookie-level Idaho Falls, which rolled to a 10-1 victory over Billings at Dehler Park.
Santos was perfect until Nick Benedetto singled with two outs in the bottom of the sixth. He ended up facing only two batters over the minimum, walking one while throwing 87 pitches and closing with back-to-back strikeouts.
"It's funny, he really wasn't sharp," Chukars pitching coach Steve Merriman said. "What was working for him was tenacity and never giving in. He wasn't sharp, he knew it, we talked in between every inning about staying aggressive, and he didn't give in. He had seven punchouts, three of those were curveballs, three were fastballs and one was a changeup. His fastball had good sink tonight, he had tremendous movement. I really believe that was the key."
"I've talked to these guys that it's a boxing match and there are days where you're going to get punched in the nose. I know it sounds funny, he's got a perfect game going and to say he had to hang in there is really accurate."
Santos improved to 2-0 while lowering his Pioneer League ERA to 0.64. He's yielded four hits and struck out 10 over 14 innings since starting the season with Rookie-level Burlington in the Appalachian League.
"He's just got a really simple, compact deliver," Merriman said. "He's got good life to his fastball, he runs it up to 92. He's got tremendous movement. He's built a lot like Tom Gordon, doesn't quite have Tom Gordon's curveball yet, but that's the frame and delivery that he has."
A native of the Dominican Republic, Santos was acquired last Nov. 28 in the trade that sent first baseman Clint Robinson to Pittsburgh. He opened the season by going 4-1 with a 2.25 ERA in seven starts with Burlington.
"We've had some shifting in our rotation and we wanted to give him the opportunity to pitch in this staff," Merriman said. "We've been in the hunt for the playoffs, so anytime you can get a opportunity to pitch in meaningful games, that's always a great thing. We're in that situation and I think that's good for him."
Overall, the 22-year-old right-hander is 5-1 with a 2.11 ERA in eight starts. He threw a seven-inning shutout against Elizabethton on July 8, allowing five hits and striking out six.
On Wednesday, Tyler Mack came on in the eighth and gave up a run on three hits before Austin Fairchild tossed a hitless ninth.
Royals No. 19 prospect Humberto Arteaga supplied the offense for the Chukars, going 4-for-5 with his second homer of the season and three RBIs. Cody Stubbs capped a four-run sixth with a bases-loaded triple.
Robert Emrich is a contributor to MiLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @RobertEmrich.