The view from the Williamsport Crosscutters' dugout isn't the best to figure out just how well a pitcher's stuff is working on any given day. Friday though, in the opener of an Independence Day doubleheader, Cutters manager Shawn Williams could see Mitch Gueller was locked in.
Williams could see, some 120 feet away from home plate, there was bite to Gueller's slider and he was attacking the strike zone with his fastball. It all added up to the best outing of Gueller's career.
The right-hander threw a four-hit shutout in Williamsport's 2-0 win over Auburn in the first game of a doubleheader. It was the first complete game and first shutout thrown in the New York-Penn League this year. Auburn won the second game of the doubleheader, 6-4, with a four-run eighth inning, to split the doubleheader.
"He was outstanding. He really pitched," Williams said of Gueller. "From the first inning on he was using all his pitches. He had everything working."
"He was nails today," Cutters infielder Derek Campbell said. "He was keeping everyone guessing."
Gueller had a presence on the mound he hasn't shown before in his brief career in the Phillies' minor league system. He carried a confidence which helped put him in complete control of Friday's game.
Gueller used that confidence to establish a rhythm and a tempo which Auburn never broke. He carried a perfect game into the fifth inning of the seven-inning game. He gave up just four singles - one of which would have been an out had it not hit the base umpire - and faced just three batters over the minimum.
It was the kind of outing the Phillies expected when they selected Gueller with the 54th overall pick in the 2012 draft.
"I'm starting to feel better about myself, about my outings, and about my body," Gueller said. "Everything is kind of piecing together right now. It's that confidence. You like to attack guys and go after them and that tempo kind of picks up for you."
Gueller kept the uptempo approach by establishing his fastball - which averaged 89 mph yesterday - early and maintaining it for all seven innings. He threw first-pitch strikes to 17 of the 24 batters he faced, mainly utilizing his fastball.
He's struggled with that same fastball at times this year, as he wouldn't get his hips opened up from time to time which cause the ball to run into the right-handed batter's box. He's been working with pitching coach Aaron Fultz on increasing the length of his stride away from the pitching rubber, which in turn gets him squared up to the plate allowing him to better locate all his pitches.
Friday's success was an extension of a solid start in his previous outing nearly a week ago against State College. In those two starts Gueller has allowed just one run and seven hits over 12 innings. His two wins in his last two starts are just one fewer than he earned all last year with the Crosscutters in 14 games.
"I think step one for just about anybody is establishing the fastball," Gueller said. "Once you get ahead, it's fun pitching at that point and just letting the defense make plays."
And his defense made all the plays. Jan Hernandez made the first of his two tremendous diving plays in the fourth inning, diving full extension into the hole to snare a one-hop rocket and throw out David Masters at first base. Two pitches later Robinson Torres climbed the ladder at second base to snare a humpback line drive.
It followed a pattern by Gueller who induced 14 outs on the infield to go along with five strikeouts. Only two outs were recorded by the outfield, one on a sinking liner which Jiandido Tromp ran down, and another on a can-of-corn fly ball.
Gueller induced soft contact all day. It was the fourth time in 26 career appearances Gueller had a scoreless outing, and the fourth time he recorded at least five strikeouts.
Three of his strikeouts came swinging on his slider, a new pitch in his arsenal this year after ditching his curveball. The other two came looking on fastballs.
"(The slider) has been getting better and better every time and that's encouraging for me," Gueller said. "It feels more natural than the curveball. I like that."
"That slider keeps improving. That's probably my favorite thing I saw today," Williams said. "His better ones were in an 0-2 or 1-2 count. He'd either bounce it or put it in a perfect spot to keep it down. That was the key to his start today."
Gueller's offense did just enough to back him, scoring a pair of runs in the fourth inning, first on a sacrifice fly by Matt Shortall, then on an RBI infield single from Hernandez.
The Cutters were just 1 for 6 with runners in scoring position in the first game, and followed it up with a 1 for 11 performance with runners in scoring position in the second game.
Williamsport scored a pair in the first inning of Game 2 when Jiandido Tromp hit his team-leading fifth home run the other way to right field for a two-run shot for a 2-0 lead. The Cutters didn't score another run until the eighth inning when it was trailing 6-2. Shortall hit his third home run of the year - and second in the last two days - in limited at-bats to cut the deficit to 6-3. Wilson Garcia followed with a double and he scored when Drew Stankiewicz grounded into a double play two batters later.
The Crosscutters stranded seven baserunners in the second game, including two in the third, fourth and fifth innings.
"It was right there for us to take both games," said Campbell, who was 2 for 6 with a double and a run scored. "We just couldn't capitalize on it. It's frustrating when it's there for you and it slips away."
Fourth-round draft pick Chris Oliver made his Crosscutters debut, pitching three innings for the Cutters allowing two runs on two hits. He walked three and hit another batter, throwing just 34 of his 62 pitches for strikes.
His final inning was his best inning as he showed great command of the strikezone, a plus fastball and a strong breaking ball.
"His last inning really impressed me," Williams said. "He got a tempo going. Throw the pitch, get back on the rubber and get ready for the next one. Fultzy talked to him and said it's a matter of doing that from pitch number one. If you're able to do that, you're going to have success."