Walking the first two batters of the game may seem like a small hurdle, but for Double-A Midland starter Heath Fillmyer, the shaky start loomed large in an otherwise brilliant night.
The A's No. 12 prospect said a shorter stride was the simple solution to a big problem that got him on the path to 7 1/3 scoreless innings in the RockHounds' 6-0 win over San Antonio on Friday at Nelson Wolff Municipal Stadium.
"When I'm up in the zone like I was today with the first two batters, it's one of those things where I got to shorten my stride and get my arm up on top to get the ball down the mound," Fillmyer said. "I use that slope so that I can get the ball shin-high, but that's about it. Once you find the heater, everything else really works off of that."
Gameday box score
The right-hander gave up three hits and struck out seven in the longest outing of his four-year career. He did not walk another batter after the two early free passes. In 16 starts, Fillmyer has 49 strikeouts over 72 1/3 innings and ranks eighth in the Texas League with a 3.24 ERA.
Over his past three starts, the 23-year-old has given up just one run with 17 punchouts in 19 innings, but he's also walked 10 during tha stretch.
"Sometimes you catch a rhythm in baseball and you got to milk it for what it's worth," Fillmyer said. "It wasn't exactly the two best performances in my last outings, I still had to work on a lot. I wanted to come in and make sure I kept my walks down.
"I was attacking the zone with all of my pitches, so it was unfortunate that I ended up walking the first two guys in this outing."
The New Jersey native walks Padres No. 4 prospect Luis Urias and Noah Perio before settling down and striking out Ty France and getting Franmil Reyes to bounce into a double play.
"For me, it was establishing the heater … early, getting that where it needed to be and finding a release point," Fillmyer said. "Everything really works off my fastball for me, so establishing the heater on both sides of the plate is it."
Video: 'Hounds' Fillmyer picks up seventh K
The 2014 fifth-round pick worked around a leadoff double by Alberth Martinez by recording nine consecutive outs ahead of Nick Torres' leadoff single in the fifth. He got out of that frame with a pair of strikeouts and a lineout and began another nine-out streak to get through the seventh with a 2-0 lead.
"The heaters ... I was able to spot in, out, up and down on the plate," Fillmyer said. "It opens up the plate a lot and gets guys defensive and you really catch them guessing a lot. You end up getting better swings off your breaking balls and your changeup.
"But when you're heater is in the zone, they kind of have no choice but to chase."
Midland skipper Fran Riordan told the Mercer County Community College product that seven innings would be as far as his evening would go when he returned to the dugout. However, Riordan had a change of heart after seeing his offense put up four runs on four hits in the eighth to provide enough of a cushion to push his starter.
Fillmyer surrendered a leadoff single to Stephen McGee and got Peter Van Gansen to pop to first before being pulled after 100 pitches, including 69 strikes.
"It was one of those things where everything happened to work off each other," Fillmyer said. "It's a rare occasion, but everything was working,"
The RockHounds handed it over to Sam Bragg, who allowed a single and a walk to load the bases in the eighth but finished off the shutout with a 1-2-3 ninth.
A's No. 10 prospect Yairo Munoz doubled, singled and scored a run for Midland, while Brett Vertigan went 2-for-3 with an RBI.