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Travelers' Piazza impresses in pinch
Angels farmhand scatters two hits over 6 2/3 shutout innings
07/30/2012 1:09 AM ET
Mike Piazza owns a 2.37 ERA through 33 appearances (six starts) for Arkansas.
Mike Piazza owns a 2.37 ERA through 33 appearances (six starts) for Arkansas. (Ed Hamilton)
Mike Piazza is trying to make a name for himself, and lately he's been doing a pretty good job of that.

The 25-year-old right-hander -- who, yes, is a distant relative of the 12-time All-Star -- scattered two hits and two walks in 6 2/3 scoreless innings Sunday to lead Double-A Arkansas to a 6-2 victory over Tulsa. The start, just the sixth of the Angels prospect's season in 33 appearances, extended his shutout streak to 17 2/3 innings dating back to July 12.

Piazza (2-3) only received the start because a spot in the Travelers' rotation opened up with John Hellweg and Ariel Pena leaving the squad for the Milwaukee system as pieces in the Zack Greinke trade. He made the most of his opportunity.

"I was just trying to throw strikes and give us a chance to win," said the hurler, who threw 68 of his 97 pitches for strikes. "That's what the goal is at any level, whether you're a starter or a reliever, so I was happy to do that today. We're in the middle of a playoff chase, and every game matters."

The Florida Institute of Technology product apparently was completely unaware of his scoreless streak, during which 11 2/3 innings have come in relief. But he reasons that he's one of many Travelers who have done well lately, and he's just trying to keep pace. The team has won four in a row and 11 of its last 14 contests, putting them 3½ games behind Springfield in the Texas League North Division.

"We're all playing good baseball," Piazza said. "How we've played, we're getting major contributions from everyone. It's not just a particular hitting streak or scoreless streak. When the whole team plays well, it's a great motivator for everyone else to do the same."

The shutout run could have come its conclusion in the third inning.

With Lars Davis on first base after reaching on an error, Piazza allowed a one-out double to Michael Mitchell. The right-hander then forced Corey Dickerson to pop out, but fell down 2-0 to Angelys Nina, prompting a mound visit from Travelers pitching coach Trevor Wilson.

"He told me, 'There's a much better hitter on deck [in Rockies' top prospect Nolan Arenado] and you're down 2-0,'" said the Florida native. "Who would you rather face? You've been getting them out all year. Just keep doing what you've been doing.' That made a lot of sense to me."

Piazza returned to strike out Nina on the next three pitches. He didn't allow another hit until Jimmy Cesario's single with two outs in the seventh ended his night.

The win was the right-hander's first at a starter, and he had made only other in the Minor Leagues before this season. It may not be his last, however. He owns a 2.57 ERA in six starts in 2012 vs. a 2.22 mark in 27 relief appearances. For right now at least, he doesn't have an opinion either way.

"You know, my pitching coach asked me about that after the game, and I honestly don't know," Piazza said. "Obviously, it's going well when I've been starting, so I'm warming up to that. I'd say I'm probably on the cusp of making a decision one way or another. But it's not up to me. Whatever the team needs me to do, I'd be glad to do it."

Angels' No. 15 prospect Travis Witherspoon went deep twice and drove in three runs from the leadoff spot in the Arkansas order. The effort doubled his home run production to four in his 20th game since his promotion to Double-A.

"He definitely has that kind of power," said Piazza. "Those two homers tonight went pretty long. ... Every team needs a catalyst at the top of the lineup, and I think he can be that for us. I'd call him a pretty spectacular player in the way he can hit, field, everything."

Sam Dykstra is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.
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