It took Nick Schmidt four starts, but he finally feels like he reached that point Saturday night.
The Rockies prospect allowed one hit and struck out five over six scoreless innings as Triple-A Colorado Springs shut down visiting Tacoma, 3-1.
It was his first clean slate in the Pacific Coast League after surrendering 16 earned runs in 16 innings over his first three starts.
"[I was trying] not to give the hitters too much credit tonight," said Schmidt, who was 5-3 with a 3.29 ERA at Tulsa before his promotion. "This is the same game as Double-A, you know. I know I've been blessed with talent; I just had to make the most of it."
As nice as it was to limit the Rainiers to one hit, the bigger key to the 26-year-old left-hander's success on Saturday was his lone free pass. After walking 15 batters in 14 Texas League starts, he issued nine in his first three starts for Colorado Springs. Not only did it provide opponents a free trip to first base, it affected Schmidt's game plan.
"When you walk guys early, you're going to throw a couple pitches right down the middle just to get them over," said Schmidt, who throws a fastball, changeup and curveball. "Here, they're going to hit that for a double or something. All of a sudden, you look up and there's already some runs on the board."
On Saturday, the University of Arkansas product walked Trayvon Robinson, the fifth Rainier he faced. But in a sign that the night would go differently, he got Alex Liddi to ground into a double play that thwarted a Tacoma threat.
The 2007 first-round Draft pick allowed his only hit in the third when Darren Ford grounded a single to left. But he hretired 10 of his final 11 batters before turning things over to the bullpen.
Despite the poor early returns, Schmidt's win was his second straight at Security Service Field.
"A lot of guys told me, 'You're going to be 6,000 feet up, the air is thin and the wind blows out,'" he said. "So at first, I was a little worried. But it's like I said, the game's pretty much the same. The guys who are going to hit it out at other parks are going to hit it out here, too. You just pitch it the same as you would any other place."
This is Schmidt's first season in the Rockies system after spending parts of five years with the Padres. He was acquired in the deal that sent reliever Huston Street to San Diego and, after years of battling injuries and never climbing higher than Class A Advanced, he was happy for a change in scenery.
"It's gone fabulously well," Schmidt said. "I'm just really thankful for the opportunity they've given me here. It really represents a new start. I was on the DL quite a bit with the Padres and it wasn't until last fall that I felt like I was normal self. Fortunately, they traded me in December and I was able to put all of that behind me with a new organization."
Schmidt earned a spot in the Texas League All-Star Game in the first half of the season, but he knows there's still work to be done.
Saturday was the first step.
"It's just getting that confidence I can pitch here," he said. "Those first couple of starts weren't as smooth, but tonight only reiterates that I have the ability. Now I need to go out there, have fun and keep working at it."