Manuel Rondon has been pretty dominant all season, but now that he's also consistent, Northwest League hitters can fear him even more.
In his second straight scoreless start, the Cubs prospect allowed three hits and two walks with six strikeouts over five innings on Friday as Class A Short Season Eugene edged Spokane, 1-0, at Avista Stadium.
"Just going out there and he's been doing it all year, really, throwing strikes and changing speeds and not giving up a whole lot of hits," Emeralds pitching coach Brian Lawrence said. "When he's executing pitches and when he gets into a jam, he's able to get out of it with relative ease."
Scattering five baserunners, Rondon (6-0) did run into a couple jams, especially in the fifth when he allowed a walk and a single, but each time he emerged unscathed. The 21-year-old left-hander equally induced flyouts, groundouts and popouts as he stymied the Indians.
"He holds runners well and when you do that, you don't have to worry about runners. You know if they take off, the catcher will have a chance. He's quick to the plate and he erases runners and then he can focus on pitches," Lawrence said. "He has a good sinker at times, he has a good changeup and [on Friday,] he threw some nice breaking balls."
With his fourth scoreless outing of the season, Rondon owns a league-leading 1.27 ERA. The Venezuela native has held foes to six earned runs on 37 hits and 15 walks with 39 strikeouts over 42 2/3 frames in nine starts.
The dominance has led Rondon to a circuit-best six wins, which Lawrence said is probably a coincidence, but noted that the defense really likes to play hard for him.
"His breaking ball has gotten a lot better since last year, which has helped him; it's made his fastball better because now they have to worry about a breaking ball also," the coach said. "He's a smart kid, he learns, he wants to learn and he wants to be good. So all those things combined have led to a solid year, kind of under the radar, too. But he's a joy to work with and he's just gotten better every start."
The Angels traded Rondon with cash to the Cubs for catcher Rafael Lopez on July 3, 2015 in the midst of a tough season for the southpaw. Before his breakout campaign, he posted a 5.67 ERA in 10 Arizona League games.
"He had some mechanical flaws when we got him and he's smoothed those out over time and now he just keeps adding quality pitches," Lawrence said. "His fastball gets better -- he's able to throw it to both sides of the plate -- breaking ball's been more consistent, his changeup's gotten better. A lot of it is probably just maturity, getting older, learning how to pitch, how to handle hitters."
Eugene's relievers preserved Rondon's strong start with Marc Huberman, M.T. Minacci, Chad Hockin and Mark Malavie each pitching a hitless inning. Malavie struck out of the side in the ninth for his seventh save.
"We had a couple walks out of the bullpen, which is never good, especially in a 1-0 game, but they were able to make pitches, get through the innings when they had to," Lawrence said. "Malavie came in in the end and did what he does, which is locate his fastball and use a breaking ball now and then when he needs to."
In relief of Spokane starter C.D. Pelham, Reid Anderson (1-1) allowed one run on four hits while striking out two over 3 1/3 innings.
Kelsie Heneghan is a contributor to MiLB.com. Follow her on Twitter @Kelsie_Heneghan.