A six-week stretch from mid-May to the start of July was more frustrating than it was worrisome for Tyler Ivey.
Ranked as the No. 7 prospect in the Astros system, the right-hander was off to another stellar start to his season when he felt a slight pain in his elbow. What he described as a "mild UCL sprain" turned out to be nothing serious -- MRIs showed no damage, he said -- it just caused him to spend some time away from his Corpus Christi teammates as a precaution.
"I was like, 'Golly,'" said the Rowlett, Texas native. "I was on track to where I wanted to be, and then I had to kind of start all over. But you kind of let that frustration subside and you get into your own mind and you just make the best of it."
Considering his line, Ivey's first taste of Double-A appears as smooth as he could have hoped for.
A third-round pick out of Grayson County Community College in 2017, Ivey would be poised for Texas League Pitcher of the Year honors if he had a few more appearances. His 2019 line: 4-0 with a 1.57 ERA, 0.96 WHIP and 61 strikeouts over 46 innings.
Video: Hooks' Ivey finishes strong
This comes after he had a 2.97 ERA with 135 strikeouts in 112 innings over two levels last season. The reason for the continued progress, he said, is simple: better command.
"In the beginning, they tell you to just throw everything and develop everything," he said. "Then as time goes on, you want to try to be able to put it where you want it."
That's the stage Ivey finds himself now, and it's going just fine. It was evident through his first six starts, when he held every team he faced to one earned run or less.
Then came the injury scare. Though it turned out to be minor, Ivey went to the Astros' spring facility in West Palm Beach, Florida, and didn't throw for a week and a half. He worked his way back to the Texas League, with stops first with the Astros' Rookie-level Gulf Coast League team and then with Class A Advanced Fayetteville. He returned to the Hooks on July 2 and hasn't missed a beat, holding all but one team to one earned run or less in eight appearances since.
"It's always a little bit more pressure on you just making sure you can have the success and prove to everyone that you do have the same stuff that you did," Ivey said. "When I did come back and have success, it was really exciting, because you just fall back to exactly where you were like nothing ever happened."
2019 MiLB include
So, despite the unplanned, several-week absence from the Hooks, Ivey can consider his first Double-A season a success. He feels he's improved his command, and he was able to pitch effectively following the hiatus, which he said might have also taught him a little bit of patience.
"I noticed if you look too far ahead, you get ahead of yourself and next you're thinking, 'Dominate, dominate, dominate,' to get to the next level, and you end up kind of tripping over yourself," he said. "I've found it best to take it one hitter at a time. … And over time, those little successes add up to one big success."
Finishing strong: A mainstay in an Arkansas lineup that has seen some changes this year, Donnie Walton has saved his best for the home stretch. The Travelers infielder has a league-high 23 hits in August, and he's raised his on-base percentage to a league-best .394 for the season. Walton is hitting .298 with 10 home runs in his best campaign since being drafted in the fifth round out of Oklahoma State in 2016.
Chasing Dylan: Tulsa's Cody Thomas has a clear path to taking over the league home run crown for 2019. He hit his 20th blast on Aug. 18, putting him one behind Springfield's Dylan Carlson, who was promoted to Triple A Memphis on Aug. 15. Thomas, a 13th-round pick in 2016, has less than two weeks to reach 22 and become the second Driller in a row to lead the league in home runs after DJ Peters hit 29 last season.
50/50: Khalil Lee's two stolen bases Sunday not only got him 50 for the season but tied him for the league lead with former Northwest Arkansas teammate Nick Heath, who has been promoted to Triple-A Omaha. Not only is Lee poised to surpass Heath, but he helped make history, too. The Naturals are believed to be the first Texas League team with two players to steal 50 bases since the Midland Angels in 1983.