SAN DIEGO -- Throwing in the open backyard of his home in Ramona, Calif., while learning to pitch at the age of 12, Padres reliever Nick Vincent learned the importance of first-pitch strikes from his father Randy.
Get strike one and you're in total control of the at-bat.
That sounds so simple, but that's when Vincent is at his best. The right-hander has kept that mindset when he's taken the mound during his breakout season.
The back end of the Padres' bullpen doesn't give away many games with the combination of Vincent in the seventh, Luke Gregerson in the eighth and Huston Street in the ninth. At times, Vincent has been the best of them all.
Vincent's 2.52 ERA is the lowest among active Padres pitchers, as is his 1.00 WHIP. Opposing hitters are hitting just .222 against him.
The biggest reason for Vincent's success has been his ability to throw strikes, or at least pitches that opposing hitters will swing at for a strike. He's only walked five batters in 25 innings.
"Nick's done good work for us as a young pitcher working his way into a Major League bullpen," said manager Bud Black. "He's throwing strikes when he needs to. The cutter/slider is real."
Vincent's recent appearances are a testament to first-pitch strikes. On July 29 vs. the Reds, all 13 of his pitches were strikes. Facing the Yankees on Sunday, both pitches were strikes. On Tuesday vs. the Orioles, all but two of his 10 pitches were strikes.
"Just getting ahead is huge," Vincent said. "You have more confidence out there on the mound to establish you can pitch your game instead of being behind and you have got to throw a strike. I've just been throwing first-pitch strikes and getting ahead early."
Vincent would have almost certainly started this season with the Padres if he had not developed an inflamed tendon in his lower right forearm near the end of Spring Training. It took about the entire first month of the season just to get his arm strength back while he went 4-3 with a 4.15 ERA at Triple-A Tucson.
This was the second straight spring that Vincent was hindered by injuries. The 27-year-old severely sprained his left ankle by stepping on a ball in 2012, but he wouldn't blame the injuries for delaying his progress. Vincent would rather just express gratitude to be where he is.
Vincent still thinks it's crazy that he and another San Diego County native, reliever Sean O' Sullivan, are teammates and in the same bullpen together on the team they grew up rooting for. Neither of them could have imagined this while playing against each other.
Vincent was recalled from Triple-A Tucson on June 11, and he hasn't faltered since. He didn't allow a run for the first 10 appearances and has only allowed runs in three of his 24 appearances this season.
"He's not flying under our radar at all," Padres pitching coach Darren Balsley said in July.
Vincent wants to finish this year strong and then focus on keeping himself healthy in the offseason.
"For me, I've got to come in healthy without a nagging injury or something," Vincent said. "The offseason is just hang out, relax, do your workouts, throw and run, but other than that, just work with my dad."
Jamal Collier is an associate reporter for MLB.com.