Sam Howard picked an ideal time for his best start of the season.
The lefty struck out 10 in eight scoreless innings to lead the road-weary Albuquerque Isotopes to a 2-0 victory over the Sacramento River Cats on Tuesday night.
Howard (2-1) gave all the credit to his catcher.
“All my pitches were working for me tonight,” Howard said. “Tom Murphy had a game plan going into tonight. I’ve never gotten to play with Murph, I only got to throw to him a little bit in spring training. Murph called a great game.
“He used all of my pitches and kept me guessing and the hitters both. It was just a lot of fun out there, having Murph back there taking control of the game.”
Howard was not surprised by his easy rapport with Murphy.
“It doesn’t surprise me coming from Murph, he’s a great catcher,” Howard said. “He’s a big leaguer, I expect him to be really good, but he was extremely good tonight.”
It all came after a long day of travel for the Isotopes (41-43), who left their hotel in Tacoma at 3 a.m.
“Games like that are very welcome after a day like today,” manager Glenallen Hill said.
Howard scattered three hits and did not walk any batters, lowering his ERA from 5.12 to 3.62.
“It looked like he was in his rhythm and he was very decisive in what he wanted to do,” Hill said. “There was not a lot of hesitation, there was a lot of execution.”
Hill said the coaching staff did not work with anything in particular with Howard before this start. He had allowed 10 earned runs on 20 hits and seven walks over his previous three starts, covering 16 2/3 innings.
“No, part of his process is just focusing on executing pitches,” Hill said. “When things start to go good for a pitcher they start to settle into a rhythm. Sometimes when they are having outings where they face pressure, they don’t respond to that pressure. That’s when things go sideways. He seemed to be in a nice, even flow.”
The River Cats (32-51) got an unexpected great start from Jose Flores, who also struck out 10 across seven scoreless frames in his first Triple-A start of the season.
“When it’s a close game like that, you don’t lose your focus,” Howard said. “It’s fun when you’re in a pitcher’s duel. That guy was doing really good tonight.”
Albuquerque finally broke through in the eighth against reliever Tyler Rogers (1-3). Murphy helped his pitcher out by crushing a 2-1 pitch for a leadoff home run to left field.
Cristhian Adames followed with a triple and then scored on a sacrifice fly.
“There is a mental relief for hitters to see someone with a different arm angle,” Hill said.
Jairo Diaz gave up two hits in the ninth before inducing a 4-6-3 double play to end the game after just 2 hours and 3 minutes, the shortest Isotopes game of the year.
Albuquerque and Sacramento will continue their series Wednesday at 7:05 p.m. The Isotopes have not named a starter to oppose River Cats right-hander Roberto Gomez (1-5, 6.54 ERA).