The first June start of Simeon Woods Richardson's pro career also was his finest outing to date.
The sixth-ranked Mets prospect didn't allow a hit over a career-long five innings, fanning a professional-best nine and walking one, in Class A Columbia's 5-2 win over Rome on Monday night at Segra Park.
Video: Fireflies' Woods Richardson fans career-high eighth
Woods-Richardson just had that feeling he was going to have a special start on the mound.
"It felt like a great day," he said. "I started throwing the ball in warmups and I was like, 'Yeah, I feel good.' So I went to the bullpen and everything was working and I was like, 'OK, yeah, I could do something today.'"
Woods-Richardson felt confident in all three of his pitches, something he couldn't claim in previous starts.
"The changeup was my best friend," he said. "That and the slider were my two best pitches. I got a lot of swings-and-misses."
Throwing those secondary pitches for strikes when he needed to and pounding the strike zone early were major keys for Woods-Richardson's success.
After Atlanta's No. 28 prospect Trey Harris walked on four pitches to lead off the second inning, the 18-year-old righty retired 12 in a row, seven by strikeout. He struck out the side in the fourth and reached a three-ball count on only two of the 16 hitters he faced. Woods-Richardson threw 66 pitches, 42 of them for strikes. Half his punchouts came at the expense of Hagen Owenby and Darling Florentino.
Gameday box score
Woods-Richardson feels he's strongest on the mound when he gets into a good rhythm and moves in a fast tempo.
"It really hit me sophomore year of high school, with my coaches," he said. "They were like, 'You're an athlete, be an athlete. Don't let anybody take that from you.' I've always used that. And my mom's always been telling me to use that fast tempo, 'Because you do your best work when you're fast.'"
Finding that happy medium of combining rhythm and pace was something that eluded Woods-Richardson over the past few weeks, he admitted.
The 2018 second-round pick came into the game 0-6 with a 6.88 ERA, having not gone longer than four innings in any of his 11 starts over 35 1/3 innings in the South Atlantic League. Although he had 44 strikeouts and only seven walks, opposing hitters were batting .307 against the 6-foot-3 hurler.
When things went wrong on the mound, they snowballed for Woods-Richardson, because he maintained the fast tempo even when he wasn't achieving his desired results. But when in control, he said he's able to disrupt his opponents' rhythm with how quickly he's ready to throw the next pitch.
2019 MiLB include
Woods-Richardson said he was prepared to keep pitching, but understood why the Fireflies took him out of the game.
"At the end of the day, they're looking out for me," he said. "And I can't ask anything more than that. I had like 10 pitches left in my pitch count, and I'd rather end on a good note than something happening in the sixth inning and let that snowball. So what they did was perfect. I respect that call."
Woods-Richardson split his 2018 season between the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League and Rookie Advanced Kingsport. He went 1-0 with a 1.56 ERA in seven appearances, four of them starts, over 17 1/3 innings.
New York's No. 2 prospect Ronny Mauricio grounded an RBI single in the third to extend his hitting streak to eight games for Columbia.