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Arizona Fall League

Whitley strikes out first seven in Fall League opener

MLB.com @JonathanMayo

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Astros right-hander Forrest Whitley is the best pitching prospect in the Arizona Fall League this season, but after missing so much time during the 2018 season, it was unclear just how sharp he would be in his first start on Tuesday night.

The No. 8 overall prospect made it about as crystal as possible out of the gate. Pitching at home for the Scottsdale Scorpions, Whitley struck out the first seven batters he faced against the Mesa Solar Sox, and eight of the first nine over three perfect innings. The Major League record for strikeouts to begin a start is eight, set late last month by Rockies right-hander German Marquez.

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Astros right-hander Forrest Whitley is the best pitching prospect in the Arizona Fall League this season, but after missing so much time during the 2018 season, it was unclear just how sharp he would be in his first start on Tuesday night.

The No. 8 overall prospect made it about as crystal as possible out of the gate. Pitching at home for the Scottsdale Scorpions, Whitley struck out the first seven batters he faced against the Mesa Solar Sox, and eight of the first nine over three perfect innings. The Major League record for strikeouts to begin a start is eight, set late last month by Rockies right-hander German Marquez.

"I've never even in high school had a stretch like that," Whitley said. "I had a lot of adrenaline. That was the first time in a game situation in about a month. I felt really good, I felt like all my stuff was working, at least in those first three innings. I kind of blew it out those first three innings. Then the fourth inning came and I kind of ran out of gas. I barely went into the fourth or fifth inning this year at all, so it was good to go out there for the fourth inning and learn from that."

2018 Arizona Fall League rosters

Whitley did run into trouble in the fourth, mostly of his own doing. Tigers outfielder Daz Cameron broke up the perfect game with a single up the middle to lead off the fourth inning. After balking Cameron to second on a pickoff move and walking Angels second baseman Jam Jones, Whitley got A's outfielder Skye Bolt to pop out to right, but then walked Red Sox third baseman Bobby Dalbec to load the bases and end his night.

"I got the runner on and I feel like I tried to do too much, trying to use the slide step," Whitley said. "I know Daz is a great runner, so I wanted to keep him there. I thought I got him there, but unfortunately they called a balk. I was just rushing out of the slide step. I hadn't worked out of the slide step for the entirety of the ballgame to that point. That's another thing to work on going forward, to get more effective and efficient like that."

The Red Sox's Josh Ockimey, serving as Scottsdale's designated hitter, drove in a pair with a single against Phillies reliever Luke Leftwich to give Whitley a final line of 3 1/3 IP, 1 hit, 2 earned runs, 2 walks and 8 strikeouts in a game eventually won by Mesa on a ninth-inning inside-the-park home run, 4-3.

Whitley was using all of his pitches extremely effectively and efficiently over the first three innings, with a fastball up to 98 mph to go along with a very effective curve, slider and changeup. He threw just 38 pitches, 28 for strikes. He threw 17 pitches, just eight for strikes in the fourth, as he nibbled too much with his secondary stuff.

"I was pleasantly surprised," Whitley said. "It was good to see all of those pitches sharp right out of the gate, so I decided to use all of them. I was throwing them mostly for strikes when I needed to. It was a good thing to propel me hopefully throughout these next six weeks in the Fall League."

Whitley missed the start of the 2018 season due to a 50-game suspension for violating the Minor League drug program. He returned in June to make six starts before landing on the disabled list with an oblique issue. He came back to make two outings in August, only to be shelved again with a lat strain, though he did return to make a brief outing in the Texas League playoffs. Overall, the 2016 first-rounder threw just 26 1/3 regular season innings during the 2018 season.

Other notable performances:

• Mets No. 2 prospect Peter Alonso, who tied for the Minor League lead in home runs this season, didn't go deep. But the first baseman did pick up a pair of RBI singles, twice driving in Giants catcher Matt Winn, first to give Scottsdale a 2-0 lead in the third and then to tie the score at three in the seventh

Red Sox No. 7 prospect Darwinzon Hernandez was lights out for Mesa in relief. The left-hander entered the game in the fifth and tossed two scoreless innings, allowing just one hit -- a single to the first batter he faced, Giants infielder C.J. Hinojosa -- while striking out five.

Red Sox No. 7 prospect Josh Ockimey, a first baseman by trade, provided the offense for Mesa as it's DH. The first batter Luke Leftwich faced in relief of starter Forrest Whitley, Ockimey lined a single the other way to bring in two runs and tie the score. He gave Mesa a 3-2 lead with a sacrifice fly in the sixth.

• A's outfielder Luis Barrera gave Mesa a 4-3 lead in the ninth inning with the first home run of the 2018 Fall League, and it was an inside-the-park job. Barrera drilled a ball to deep right off the base of the wall and rounded the bases to give the Solar Sox a win.

Jonathan Mayo is a reporter for MLB Pipeline. Follow him on Twitter @JonathanMayo and Facebook, and listen to him on the weekly Pipeline Podcast.