DURHAM, N.C.—The Cincinnati Reds have used 14 different starting pitchers this season.
Tyler Mahle is making a case to be No. 15.
Mahle, the Reds No. 3 prospect, delivered another solid start for Triple-A Louisville on Tuesday evening, tossing five innings with two hits and one run allowed in a no-decision at Durham.
The start was Mahle's fifth straight of two runs allowed or less. Overall he is 2-0, 1.64 with a .138 opponent's batting average in his last five outings for the Bats.
"The key for him is he commands his fastball on both sides of the plate and up and down," Louisville pitching coach Jeff Fassero said. "He pitches well off it, gets ahead of hitters. He forces the issue."
Mahle, who departed the clubhouse before it opened to media, sat 90-93 mph with his fastball and touched 95 in his latest outing. He was able to sink his fastball and give it armside run at different points, and used it most effectively to get lefthanded hitters to chase up and out.
But what allowed him to take off was when he began mixing in his 83-86 mph slider. The 22-year-old righthander relied on his fastball nearly exclusively the first time through Durham's order and allowed four of the first eight batters to reach base, including a Shane Peterson home run on a fastball Mahle left up over the plate. After a mound meeting with Fassero, Mahle upped his slider usage and saw vastly different results. He escaped a one out, bases-loaded jam after the meeting—using a slider to induce an inning-ending grounder from Rays No. 1 prospect Willy Adames—and ultimately retired 11 of his final 13. He didn't allow a hit the rest of the way after the meeting.
"He was probably a little strong tonight," Fassero said. "He was supposed to pitch on Sunday and we had the rainout so we pushed him back, so I think he was trying to do too much because he was strong. I just told him to relax and be yourself and throw the ball.
"I told him 'Get back in the zone with your fastball.' Then after that, once he gets back in the zone with his fastball, his other stuff looks better and he starts throwing it more, slider and changeup."
The final result was in line with what Mahle has done all year. He began the year at Double-A Pensacola and went 7-3, 1.59, including a perfect game on April 22 at Mobile. It was his second-straight season with a no-hitter.
He was promoted to Louisville in June. He lost his first three starts and posted a 5.02 ERA, but has returned to dominant form in five outings since.
Most encouraging is he is finding ways to be successful even when things are not going smoothly. He fought his command and needed 98 pitches to get through five innings Tuesday, but still delivered a solid outing.
"Tonight was good for him because he had to battle through the five innings," Fassero said. "Ninety-eight pitches, that's usually good for seven or eight innings for him. He had to battle a little bit more. He wasn't in the zone as consistent with the command of his fastball, but he made the pitches when he needed to. And he does that. There's no panic. That's the big thing. For being 22, he's pretty mature. It's encouraging to see."
Mahle still has work to do before he's big-league ready. He rarely used his 81-85 mph changeup and lacked consistent feel for it, something that will need to improve before he can make it multiple times through an MLB order. His slider also showed the ability to draw chase swings, but bounced in the dirt more frequently than it ended up in the zone.
"His off-speed pitches still need to be better," Fassero said. "They're not outstanding yet. They're maybe average, maybe a little bit below. His fastball is above-average with the way he uses it pitch for pitch, and that's big. You have to have a fastball, command and control to pitch in the big leagues and be a good pitcher in the big leagues."
There are improvements to be made, but Mahle has a history of making the adjustments necessary to be successful at each step up the Reds' organizational ladder. At the rate he is going, it won't be much longer before he gets his chance to start at Great American Ballpark.
NEWS AND NOTES
Brent Honeywell, the Rays No. 2 prospect, pitched 5.2 scoreless innings for Durham before being pulled when he reached his 90-pitch limit. He gave up six hits, all singles, walked one and struck out six to lower his ERA to 1.10 over his last six starts. He sat 94-95 mph with his fastball and used an 85-87 mph slider as his main secondary, while also mixing in his changeup, screwball and curveball and getting swings and misses in the strike zone on all.
Jamie Schultz, the Rays No. 12 prospect, made his fourth appearance for Durham since returning from a severe groin strain that put him on the disabled list for three months. He worked quickly and retired the side in order in the eighth while sitting 93-94 mph with his fastball.
Ariel Hernandez, the Reds No. 21 prospect, pitched a scoreless eighth for Louisville and sat 96-97 mph with his fastball.
Durham closer Diego Castillo flashes the top velocity of the night, sitting 97-99 mph with his fastball and 88 mph with his slider. He struck out a pair in a 1-2-3 ninth for his 11th save of the season.