Having an All-Star teammate has its benefits, and A.J. Puckett has been taking advantage of the opportunity."One of our other pitchers, Richard Lovelady, he's pitched really well this first half," Puckett said. "And whenever you see the guy out there on the mound, he always looks like he's locked in.
Having an All-Star teammate has its benefits, and A.J. Puckett has been taking advantage of the opportunity.
"One of our other pitchers, Richard Lovelady, he's pitched really well this first half," Puckett said. "And whenever you see the guy out there on the mound, he always looks like he's locked in. I tried to do a little bit of that on the mound today, just try to stay locked in on the batters, not lose too much focus and attack the zone."
The Royals' No. 10 prospect recorded a career-high nine strikeouts and allowed two hits and a walk over 6 1/3 innings Wednesday as Class A Advanced Wilmington blanked Lynchburg, 9-0, at Calvin Falwell Field.
Gameday box score
"[Catcher Chase Vallot] and I had a great game plan going in before the game and I just tried to pound the zone as best as I can," Puckett said. "I knew they are an aggressive team coming in, so we were trying to mix it up with some off-speed early in the game, which allowed the fastball to help me out later on."
Most of the trouble for Puckett came in the first inning as he allowed a single to Ka'ai Tom and walked Martin Cervenka. From there, however, the 22-year-old right-hander retired 15 of the next 16 batters.
"I was just trying to go out there and put a zero on the board and do what I can for the offense," said Puckett, who gave up only a two-out single to Willi Castro in the fourth during that stretch. "They work their butts off trying to put runs on the board, especially against [Shao-Ching Chiang], who I was going up again today. He's a pretty good pitcher and I think he was leading the league in wins, so it was good to see the offense swing the bat that well."
Taking a 5-0 lead into the sixth, Puckett saw Cervenka reach on an error before getting Castro to hit into a forceout on his 106th and final pitch. The 2016 second-round pick threw 71 for strikes.
"When you try to do too much with your pitches and you try to be too fine, you start throwing balls," Puckett said. "I think that's something I was doing a lot at the beginning of the season. With my walks being up pretty high, which is not something I'm very proud of, it's good to see in this outing that I know better of a mentality of attacking the strike zone."
The Pepperdine product lowered his ERA to 3.86 after surrendering five runs on 11 hits and a walk over four innings in his previous start. He also helped drop the Blue Rocks' team ERA to 3.39, which ranks third in the Carolina League.
In addition to Lovelady, who has allowed four runs over 28 1/3 innings in 18 relief appearances, Wilmington is sending Royals No. 20 prospect Foster Griffin, Cristian Castillo and Yunior Marte to the Carolina League All-Star Game as part of the North Division pitching staff.
"I like to be a visual learner, whether watching videos of film or whatever it may be," Puckett said. "Just being able to watch [Lovelady] from the dugout, seeing him pitch and do his thing on the mound, it's just good for me to see that he's locked in every single game. That's why he's an All-Star this year. It's good to have teammates like that who can help you verbally or visually to see what they are doing and see if you can pick up some things off that."
Walker Sheller finished the seventh for Puckett and worked a clean eighth before Franco Terrero pitched around two hits in the ninth to complete the shutout.
Anderson Miller, another All-Star, went 4-for-4 with two RBIs to pace the Blue Rocks offense. Chris DeVito and D.J. Burt both collected three hits, with DeVito slugging his 15th homer and driving in four runs.
Michael Peng is a contributor to MiLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @MichaelXPeng.