On April 19 and April 26, TinCaps left-hander Joey Cantillo had two of the worst back-to-back starts of his career.
The 19-year-old didn't make it through three innings in either outing and gave up eight runs with six walks.
“It was two times where I had never struggled like that before ever in my life,” the 2017 16th-round pick said. “Especially as a pro. But we went back to the root of what happened there, and it wasn't anything with my physical stuff, my stuff was fine.
“Things got out of control and that's why I think the mental game, you hear people talking about it. Just being able to refocus after every pitch (is important).”
After those two rough starts, Cantillo refocused on a consistent pre-pitch routine – twist his back foot into the rubber, take a deep breath, lean down slightly to pick up the sign from the catcher – and the results have been phenomenal. Over his last seven outings, Cantillo has been the best starter in the Midwest League, going 4-0 with a 0.73 ERA and 44 strikeouts in 371/3 innings.
Now, despite those two disastrous starts early in the season, Cantillo's season ERA of 2.20 ranks third among the league's starters. His most recent start, against the second-place Bowling Green Hot Rods on Tuesday, was one of his best: he threw five shutout innings in just 50 pitches. The only hitter to reach base was Wander Franco, the No. 1 prospect in baseball, who singled.
“(Cantillo)'s been as consistent as can be and it starts with his preparation, his mindset, getting ready for every start and it's starting to carry over,” manager Anthony Contreras told ESPN 1380's Brett Rump. “He's starting to figure out what makes him tick every single time he goes out on that mound.”
The mental game is important for Cantillo and he's in a terrific groove right now, but he says his stuff has been there all year. His arsenal includes a fastball that he spots well consistently, a “vulcan/split” changeup and a curveball that he's trying to throw with more consistency.
The curveball has been a work in progress this season, and Cantillo's goal is to make it a reliable weapon rather than just a secondary option. He wants to be able to throw it for strikes in any count and make hitters worry that it could be coming at any time, which will make his fastball and changeup even more effective.
His improving curveball speaks to where Cantillo is in his development and why this stretch since the beginning of May is so encouraging for the TinCaps and for the Padres' organization: He can get significantly better and he is the first to say so.
“That's the kind of pitcher I can be,” Cantillo said of his recent performances. “More people are seeing what I can do when I'm throwing the ball over the plate and I'm clear-minded and my stuff can take over.
“As good as it's been, I don't think I've always necessarily had my best stuff. There's so much room for improvement.”
TinCaps vs. Lake County
Where: Parkview Field
When: 7:05 p.m.
Pitchers: Ryan Weathers (TinCaps) vs. Luis Oviedo (Captains)
TV: Xfinity 81
Radio: 1380 AM, 100.9 FM