Not long into his start against the Montgomery Biscuits on Sunday, Spencer Adams sensed something was amiss.
The White County High graduate wasn’t necessarily surprised, considering he hadn’t pitched in 11 days. A shuffle in the Birmingham Barons’ pitching rotation, coupled with the Southern League All-Star break, doubled the right-hander’s usual layoff between starts.
“I hated having that much time off,” said Adams, who plays in the Chicago White Sox organization. “You feel like you get in a groove, then you go through a long period of rest and it gets you out of your rhythm. I was pitching and it just felt like it had been too long since I was on the mound.”
But even that wasn’t enough to slow Adams’ hot streak in Double-A ball.
The Cleveland native allowed three runs through five innings as the Barons beat the Biscuits 5-4, pushing his record to 5-0 over his last six starts. The highlight of that stretch came June 9, when Adams tossed a complete-game, three-hit shutout against the Mobile BayBears.
He shifted most of the credit to Birmingham’s defense, which he said turned a handful of double plays and threw out a runner at the plate. Yet the former second-round MLB draft pick was ruthlessly efficient that night, going the distance on just 96 pitches, 70 of which were strikes.
“That game, I had all my stuff,” Adams said. “ … Our pitch count is usually around 100-105, and I actually thought my pitch count was higher than it was. But I didn’t really focus on that. I was pretty much in control the whole game. That helps, having that feeling.”
Adams hopes that feeling persists and results in a promotion to the White Sox’s Triple-A affiliate, the Charlotte Knights.
The 21-year-old certainly seems to be trending in that direction after a somewhat bumpy start to his third full season in the minors.
Adams lost his first four starts, though he pitched six or more innings three times and allowed just 10 combined runs during that stretch. The losses largely stemmed from a lack of run support — the Barons scored only four combined runs over those four games.
After picking up his first win April 29, Adams acknowledged he hit “a rough spot” through the first half of May. The 6-foot-3 hurler’s ERA ballooned from 2.93 to 4.37 over his next three starts as his record dipped to 1-6.
“I was kind of up in the zone in May, and I had to slow my motion down,” he said. “I was kind of rushing through things before I stepped back and realized that. But nobody’s too concerned about win-loss numbers. Once we get those wins under our belt, we just try to get some more.”
That adjustment helped Adams return to the win column May 21, and he hasn’t looked back since.
The former White County star has produced a 2.97 ERA over his last six starts, going at least five innings each time and never surrendering more than four earned runs in a single outing. On May 27, he permitted just two runs on five hits through eight innings against Mobile, the same team shut out two weeks later.
“Getting some wins under my belt has brought on some confidence, and I feel like the team is getting that back too,” Adams said. “That’s what we need. A little confidence goes a long way in this game.”
Adams said the recent complete game was the third of his minor league career, during which he has quickly ascended the ranks after a dominant showing in rookie ball after being drafted in 2014.
He needed less than two full seasons in Single-A before getting called up by Birmingham, though Adams said the jump to Double-A is one of the hardest in professional baseball.
Yet he has handled himself well there this season, going 6-6 with a 3.74 ERA and 67 strikeouts to just 14 walks through 86 innings. Perhaps more importantly, he fits the bill of a consistent starter — of his 14 starts this season, Adams has failed to reach the five-inning mark only twice and has given up more than four earned runs just once.
Rated by MLB.com as the 12th-best minor league prospect in the White Sox organization, Adams could soon be in line for a promotion to Triple-A Charlotte.
“I wanted to make a bit of a name for myself, be out there more and not spend the whole year in Double-A,” he said. “The goal is to get moved up to Triple-A at some point this year. If that happens, awesome. If not, I’m not going to get discouraged or put too much pressure on myself.”
The complete game shutout against Mobile certainly helped his case, along with the Southern League Pitcher of the Week recognition he earned because of that outing.
But Adams knows he still has something to prove, beginning with his next scheduled start Saturday. And even though he got to come home to Cleveland for last week’s All-Star break, the right-hander hopes to avoid another extended break between starts.
“I think I’ve still got to work on a couple things to show that I can be at a different level and not just compete, but succeed,” Adams said. “I’ve got a couple things to sharpen and prove to the guys in the front office.”