As Kent Emanuel was in the middle of retiring the final 21 batters he faced on Tuesday night, one would assume there were all kinds of thoughts going through his mind.
"Honestly, when you are on a roll like that, you kind of zone out and aren't really thinking too much," Emanuel said. "That's when you know things are going good when you can stop thinking and just have a good feel and know exactly what to do. That's what happened tonight."
Video: Express' Emanuel's final out
The Astros left-hander allowed a lone hit over eight scoreless innings, striking out six, as Triple-A Round Rock held on for a 4-3 victory over San Antonio at Dell Diamond.
After retiring the side in order in the first inning, Emanuel (8-2) allowed a leadoff single to right field to Major League veteran Travis Shaw in the second. He turned out to be the Missions' only baserunner against the 27-year-old, who set down David Freitas, Nate Orf and Troy Stokes Jr. to end the frame.
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Despite his best outing of the season, Emanuel felt he could have been better.
"I was telling some of the guys earlier that I thought that I didn't execute as well as a couple of these past outings, but that is just how the game works sometimes," he said. "I was able to stay in the zone, attack and get some outs."
Three outs from his first career complete game, he said he did not expect to get a chance to go out for the ninth, noting he'd thrown 102 pitches.
"Once I saw the 100 pitches on the board, I kind of knew and had a feeling that that would be it," the University of North Carolina product said. "That's kind of what our rotation has been set at for pitch count limit, so I would have been surprised."
Emanuel matched the longest start of his seven-year career. He last went eight innings on Aug. 6, 2014 for Class A Advanced Lancaster, when he gave up a run on six hits. The 2013 third-round pick lowered his ERA to 3.90 and has 81 punchouts over 102 2/3 innings in 28 appearances, including seven starts, for the Express.
Acknowledging that putting the ball east or west on the plate has always been a strength, Emanuel said a big key this season has been the vertical location of his pitches
"Just moving lower in the zone," he said. "That's something I have struggled with over my career. I've kind of made the extra step to move from the middle third, height-wise, to the bottom third. That has made a huge difference."
2019 MiLB include
With preparation a big asset, Emanuel said he relishes the role of a starter. When he is in a set rotation, he's able to get ready for his next appearance more effectively than when pitching out of the bullpen.
"I really invest a lot of time and effort into getting ready for my outings," he said. "I'm able to get some good lifts in where I don't have to hold anything back, where as a reliever you kind of have to because there is a chance you will be in the game. That's a big factor for me because usually my performance is based on how I feel physically. It's about being physically ready."
Ronel Blanco surrendered three runs on three hits while recording one out in the ninth before Cy Sneed closed the door, recording the last two outs to earn his first save.
Jack Mayfield had two hits and drove in two runs, and Chas McCormick also had two RBIs to lead the Round Rock offense.