Matt Imhof didn't need much more than his fastball to dominate Lakeland's lineup Thursday.
The lefty worked his fastball without feeling the need to mix in much secondary stuff past the 1st inning; through 6 innings, he allowed just 3 hits, walked 2, and struck out a season high 7 batters.
"The key thing was establishing fastball away," Imhof said. "I also had a better mindset than the last couple of starts."
He's recovered from a bicep strain that set him back. He was placed on the DL in April, and although there were concerns about his development, Clearwater manager Greg Legg sees vast improvement, particularly in that last start.
"He's normally a fastball/changeup/Slider pitcher. Last night it was more fastballs," Legg said. "He's working on command, and did a good job with it Thursday. He's come along. This is his first full season this year, and it's been a bit of a process. He's trusting his fastball. There were arm issues earlier this year, but he's feeling better now. He's starting to work on his two-seamer. But he didn't need the changeup the other night. He commanded the fastball to both sides of the plate."
The Phillies selected Imhof in the 2nd round of the 2014 June MLB Draft out of Cal Poly, and he finished his final collegiate season going 99 innings, striking out 124, good for 6th most in NCAA Division 1.
In his first professional season, he saw time at three levels, pitching a combined 42 innings, striking out 40, and walking just 11 batters through 11 starts. While he seemed to make the transition to pro ball rather smoothly, he was getting acclimated to all the new expectations.
"I was getting used to a new environment. It takes me a little while to get comfortable with the catchers and teammates. The biggest challenge for me was getting used to a five man rotation. I was only in the New York Penn League a few weeks but it helped get my arm ready for game day," said Imhof.
Having had a solid first year professionally, experiencing struggles this year was difficult. At times, he lost his way.
"Yeah, you try not to think about it. But after each outing, you're looking at things, and it's frustrating for sure. You do stuff you wouldn't normally do. You try to throw harder. You try this and that. And you kind of lose confidence in your stuff. That's where I was last month. But I had talks with pitching coordinator Rafael chaves, and out pitching coach Steve Shrenk. And got in a good mindset and did what I needed to do."
After just two years, Imhof has been through a great deal that's tested him mentally and physically. But as the physical has come along, the mental side of his game has improved the most, according to him.
"The biggest thing I've learned is how to have success. I had that in college, and last year. This year was harder. I had to re-learn things I thought I had down. Now I'm sticking with what I know. Whether it's catch-play, workouts, or bullpens. Once I figured out what I need to be successful, began to build off it each time. I'm stronger than I was in spring training. And if you talk to anyone with the Phillies, they'd tell you I'm one hundred percent better than I was in spring training. I didn't come in quite prepared like I needed to be, and now I'm ready for success."
You can follow him on Twitter @Matt_ImHOF48