If Jeff Hoffman is going to make the most of his shorter pitch count for the rest of this season, his Tuesday start for the Albuquerque Isotopes would make for a good template.
The right-hander allowed just one unearned run on three hits and one walk while striking out seven over five innings. Hoffman was limited to 76 pitches, throwing 47 of those for strikes as the Isotopes beat Salt Lake 8-4, their first win over the Bees since July 29, 2015.
It was quite the improvement from Hoffman’s last start on July 20, when he was charged with three earned runs in 3.2 innings and left the mound frustrated. Of course, that was his first start since way back on July 5.
"Last start I felt like I was just a little lethargic coming off that long break," Hoffman said. "I think that gets a lot of guys. It’s not an excuse, though, you’ve (still) gotta go out and compete. I feel like I did compete last outing. I just threw a lot of pitches early and in that pitch count, it hurts you. "Tonight I was ahead (in the count) early, getting a lot of ground balls early and (catcher Tom Murphy) did a great job back there the whole game. I just kept pounding the zone and good things happened."
Hoffman (5-8) retired seven of the first eight batters he faced. He established his mid-to-high-90s fastball early, then dropped his mid-70s curveball in to keep the Bees completely off-balance.
"I think it’s big as long as you can establish the fastball," Hoffman said. "If you can’t establish the fastball, you notice guys sit on the curveball all the time early. Unless you have that fastball that they know is going to be in the zone, that makes the curveball ineffective and that makes the fastball ineffective as well. When the fastball is in the zone, that’s when you see my best outings."
Salt Lake got their lone run in the third when Angel Rosa reached on a single up the middle, stole second and went to third on a throwing error by Murphy, and finally scored on a wild pitch.
The only other time Hoffman was in trouble was in the fourth when he hit Kaleb Cowart on the foot and Rafael Ortega followed with an infield single. Hoffman shrugged that off and struck out the next two batters.
"That’s a big testament to Darryl (Scott), that’s where that execution mentality comes in," Hoffman said. "When you’re in that mentality, when you’re in that state of mind, it doesn’t matter what the count is, all that matters is you execute the next pitch and the next pitch, and that’s what I was able to do."
Hoffman was done after striking out two of the three he faced in the fifth. All in all, it was a solid, efficient outing, one where he was never down more than 2-0 in any count.
"It’s huge and I think that hurts the hitter, too," Hoffman said. "When they know your command is good enough to climb back into the count, honestly I dominated to get back into those counts. They didn’t take any good swings at all tonight. I think when I was down, even in those hitter’s counts when I was 2-0, those are counts where you normally see the big swings, trying to hit the ball out of the park, even at 2-0 I had them on their heels."
The other remaining top prospect on the roster, catcher Tom Murphy, just kept on keeping on. He went 2-for-3 with a rare walk. For the month of July, Murphy is hitting .558 (29-for-52).
Rehabbing Rockies reliever Justin Miller had a shaky appearance in the eighth inning. He gave up a leadoff walk and then three doubles before being lifted with two outs.
Matt Carasiti, who had 29 saves at Double-A, then made his Triple-A debut. He striuck out Juan Graterol to end the eighth. He followed that with a scoreless ninth, striking out two more.
The Isotopes and Bees meet again Wednesday at 7:05 p.m.