With the season winding down, Cory Abbott has found a groove, much like the stretch run last year.
The 23-year-old has not allowed an earned run in three straight starts, the latest a seven-inning gem in which he gave up three hits and a walk while striking out six as Double-A Tennessee held off Birmingham, 4-2, on Sunday at Smokies Stadium.
Video: Tennessee's Abbott with the K
It marked the fourth time in his last six starts that Abbott (7-8) did not allow an earned run.
"I didn't feel anything out of the ordinary," he said. "It's August, we're counting down the days."
This current stretch seems reminiscent of 2018, when the 16th-ranked Cubs prospect finished with a flurry for Class A Advanced Myrtle Beach, not allowing an earned run in four of his final five starts.
"I knew I did well last August; I was the Cubs' Pitcher of the Month," he remembered. "But there's nothing I'm doing differently. I try to go out and compete. The goal is seven innings, by any means necessary. I give 100 percent and whatever happens, happens."
Gameday box score
On Sunday, Abbott retired the first four batters before Damek Tomscha stroked a one-out single to right field, then whiffed Ti'Quan Forbes and Luis Valenzuela to end the second.
With two down in the fourth, White Sox No. 13 prospect Gavin Sheets stung a 1-2 offering that Smokies first baseman Jared Young knocked down, but he could not feed the ball to the covering Abbott at the bag in time to get the out. The right-hander induced a groundout from Tomscha to get out of the inning.
The final two baserunners for Birmingham against Abbott came on a two-out walk to Alfredo Gonzalez in the fifth and a leadoff single by 12th-ranked White Sox prospect Luis Gonzalez in the sixth.
Facing the potent Birmingham lineup was just another game on the schedule for the 2017 second-round pick.
"Luis Robert and Nick Madrigal aren't there, but everyone else is," he said, noting that two of the top four White Sox prospects recently were promoted to Triple-A Charlotte. "Our pitching coach [Ron Villone] talks about it a lot, scouting reports, knowing the hitters. The first time through the order I'll pitch how I feel. As the game goes on, we talk about hitters -- what I see, what he sees -- for the third time through the order."
Jumping out to a 1-0 lead in the bottom of the first alleviated some of the pressure for Abbott.
"It definitely helps, scoring early," he noted. "I can be more aggressive and not really worry, pitch with a little more oomph and not be so command-oriented."
Still, the third-year pro is on a pitch count and "to a certain extent" aware of that threshold while on the mound.
"I've got 100 pitches to get through the day," Abbott said. "If there's a long at-bat, 'Well ... that killed the inning.' Some days it's a strikeout kind of day, others it's pitch-to-contact and just let it eat."
2019 MiLB include
The Loyola Marymount product threw 94 pitches, 61 for strikes, to drop his ERA to 3.14, its lowest mark since June 1. Abbott has not allowed an earned run in his last 16 2/3 innings.
Abbott leads the Southern League with 156 strikeouts and was the first Smokies hurler to reach 150 punchouts since Chris Carpenter whiffed 150 in 1997.
MLB.com's No. 48 overall prospect Nico Hoerner went 2-for-4, his second multi-hit effort in the past three games, with an RBI.
John Parke (3-4) dropped his third straight decision, allowing four runs -- three earned -- on eight hits and three walks across 5 1/3 innings.