Entering the fifth inning Wednesday, Robby Sexton came to a realization. After not making it out of the sixth in any of his first three outings this season, he knew something had to change."I told myself, 'If you want to be a starter, if you want to stay a starter,
Entering the fifth inning Wednesday, Robby Sexton came to a realization. After not making it out of the sixth in any of his first three outings this season, he knew something had to change.
"I told myself, 'If you want to be a starter, if you want to stay a starter, you have to be able to prove you can get through the lineup twice and into the third time through the lineup,'" the Red Sox lefty recalled. "I told myself that I can't mentally check out."
Sexton stepped up to the personal challenge, retiring the final six batters he faced. The result was his best career outing to date, six one-hit innings with two walks and seven strikeouts as Class A Greenville topped Greensboro, 7-4, at Fluor Field at the West End.
"I think before and with the previous outings, I tried to do a little bit too much," he said. And [on Wednesday], I decided I'm going to be more stealth and it worked."
With the new mind-set, Sexton -- who turns 23 on Saturday -- felt locked in early. The 6-foot hurler did not allow a hit for 2 2/3 innings, but the one he did yield wasn't trouble for long. When Greensboro leadoff hitter Andrew Knapp knocked a single, Sexton was prepared. The Ohio native quickly picked the runner off.
"I'd been watching him because the starters chart during games and I had been watching him the past two games, and I noticed that his lead was big. And I had told myself that if he gets on base, I'm going to try to do that early because he had such a big lead," he said. "But that was the first time I'd picked off somebody. I didn't pick anybody off last year at all. So it was a good feeling and it created momentum, like 'OK, I'm on a roll now.'"
After that, Sexton worked around a walk to Colby Lusignan in the fourth for three innings of near-perfect baseball. Feeling especially comfortable with his catcher, Isaias Lucena, the 22-year-old cruised to his longest career outing.
"We preach pitch-to-contact and don't try to do too much and the statistics are on your side when you're pitching," he said. "So I just stayed on the corners. I threw to contact and allowed my defense to take care of me. No errors, a lot of defensive plays, especially on the ground. It's easy to pitch when you have a defense setup like that."
The 14th-round pick in last summer's Draft spent Spring Training making minor mechanical adjustments to his windup and stretch to "become more of a strike thrower." And after three tough outings that amounted to a 5.06 ERA in 16 innings this season, Sexton is starting to feel comfortable with the changes.
"I know that they take time to really set in and [Wednesday] was when I felt like I was firing on all cylinders," he said. "It didn't feel like I was doing something different. It actually felt like it was me."
Another difference between Sexton's gem and his first three games of the season was the game time. His first day game proved to be reminiscent of his 2016 season. In the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League that doesn't play at night, Sexton flourished, notching a 1.68 ERA with 23 strikeouts and one walk in 20 innings.
"A lot of the guys hate pitching in the heat, but I'm from the North; I hate pitching in the cold," he said. "So when I get to pitch and have the sun on me and get hot, I actually enjoy pitching in the heat."
The bats were quiet until the Drive posted a seven-run seventh, highlighted by a three-run homer by Mitchell Gunsolus.
That made a winner out of reliever Hildemaro Requena (2-0), who worked around two runs on two hits with four strikeouts in two innings.
Kelsie Heneghan is a contributor to MiLB.com. Follow her on Twitter @Kelsie_Heneghan.