JUPITER, Fla. -- Baseball is a funny game. You can show up to the ballpark and see something new every day.
Marlins prospect Chad James has learned about one of baseball’s quirks the hard way this year: No matter how well you pitch, you’re never guaranteed a victory. On Saturday, fans in Jupiter witnessed something James hadn’t done all year: earn a victory.
“It feels good to finally get that first ‘W’ under my belt,” James said.
James, Florida’s first-round pick in 2009, entered the night with an 0-13 record, but he pitched six scoreless innings, allowing one hit while striking out seven and walking four to earn his first win of the season. James left with a 5-0 lead and the High Class A Hammerheads held on, 9-5.
The southpaw’s 0-13 start was the longest losing streak by a Minor League pitcher since statistics were centralized in 2005.
“Every body knows that’s baseball,” said James, who entered the year as the Marlins’ second-ranked prospect according to Baseball America. “We’ve been around the game for a long time. It happens. It just doesn’t happen all that often.”
James, 6-3 and 185 pounds, hasn’t pitched poorly in 2011. In fact, he has pitched quite well for a 20-year-old in the Florida State League, and he lowered his ERA to 3.59 on Saturday. The circuit’s sixth-youngest pitcher has averaged 7.47 strikeouts and 2.85 walks per nine innings pitched.
But a combination of bad luck and inconsistent run support hurt James’ win-loss record. Before Saturday, James had permitted two runs or less in 10 of his 18 starts, but Jupiter scored more than three runs only five times.
James took matters into his own hands Saturday. He didn’t allow a hit until the sixth inning when Brevard County’s Scooter Gennett bunted for a base hit, putting runners on first and second with no outs. But James worked out of the jam, striking out a pair of hitters after inducing a pop-up on a bunt attempt.
The lefty took the mound to start the seventh, but manager Ron Hassey motioned for the bullpen after James completed his warm-up tosses. James, who had thrown 90 pitches (55 for strikes) left to a standing ovation from the 801 fans in attendance.
“I had good command with all my pitches,” he said. “I threw my fastball where I wanted to. All my off-speed pitches I could throw wherever I wanted — down, up, in, out. Just mixing it up and everything fell into place [Saturday].”
James’ slider, which he only started throwing this year, was particularly effective — six of his seven strikeouts came courtesy of the 83-84 mph offering.
A season ago, James went 5-10 with a 5.12 ERA for Low Class A Greensboro in the South Atlantic League. Even if his record doesn’t appear to indicate progress, James said the difference between last year and 2011 has been “night and day.” That was certainly evident on Saturday, when Brevard County made solid contact only twice all night.
“I would take this season over last season any time, including the record,” he said. “As long as I’m improving and getting better, the record does not bother me. It’s just a learning process, and the whole goal is to keep getting better and better.”
We’ll have more on James’ development next week. For now, check out this exclusive post-game interview, taken in the clubhouse hallway at Roger Dean Stadium.
-- Matt Forman