Even in defeat, Josh Thigpen continues to wear the look of a completely different pitcher. There is confidence where there once was uncertainty. There is hope where there once was frustration.
And for Thigpen, , Saturday's hard-luck 5-1 loss to the Columbus RedStixx was another step forward in his development.
Thigpen pitched three innings of effective relief, but the 20-year-old was saddled with a loss in a game he easily could have won. He allowed just two hits and walked one while striking out five batters, but he was the victim of three unearned runs in the sixth inning that added up to the Jackets' fifth-straight defeat.
"As a whole, I just feel a lot better lately as far as my arm finally getting healthy, and working out a few kinks in my mechanics," Thigpen said, who took over for starter Jerome Gamble in the fifth. "I feel more confident now, and feel like I'm better at controlling my emotions on the mound."
Handling failure is something Thigpen never faced until this season. He was a high school All-American in baseball, football and basketball, and cruised through his first full season in pro ball last year with the rookie-level Gulf Coast League.
"I was able to blow hitters away in the Gulf Coast League with just my fastball," Thigpen said. "I learned you can't get away with that in this league, and it was tough at first. But now when things aren't going well, I think I'm handling myself better."
The sixth inning was a prime example of that. Thigpen kept his composure after a passed ball by catcher Edgar Martinez and an error by first baseman Matt Cooper turned a 1-0 Jackets lead into a 3-1 deficit.
Moments earlier, Thigpen nearly worked his way out of a bases-loaded jam with none out. RedStixx cleanup batter Brian Kirby lined out for the first out, and left fielder Ryan Brunner threw a strike to home plate to nail Dennis Malave's attempt to score from third base for the second out.
But three pitches later, J.J. Sherrill scored on the passed ball to tie the game. The RedStixx made it 2-1 on an RBI-single by Rodney Choy-Foo, who later scored on Cooper's error.
Thigpen (4-5) rebounded and finished strong with a 1-2-3 seventh inning. The loss was his first since June 5, but his ERA continued to fall with Saturday's outing.
In his past 29 innings, the No. 8 prospect in the Boston Red Sox organization has given up just eight earned runs, lowering his ERA from 7.94 on May 26 to 4.87 entering Game 3 of the series against Columbus today.
"When you're getting guys out and being successful, it's easy to handle things," Jackets manager Arnie Beyeler said. "Thiggy gave us three good, solid innings. He did his job, and if we catch the ball, it might be a different story."
Thigpen had more than 20 family members and friends in town from Alabama watching Saturday's game, and said it was nice to pitch well in front of them.
"I definitely had a little more adrenalin going," Thigpen said.
RedStixx 5, Jackets 1
Turning point: The RedStixx scored three unearned runs in the sixth inning to take a 3-1 lead.
Big bat: Jackets shortstop Bryan Kent went 3-for-4 with a triple and one RBI.
Top gun: Jackets starter Jerome Gamble, making his seventh rehab start for the Jackets, pitched four innings of one-hit ball and struck out five batters.
For the record: WP - J.D. Martin (11-4). LP - Josh Thigpen (4-5). Save - Lee Gronkiewicz (18).
At The Lake: A crowd of 2,278 fans gives the Jackets 88,095 for 42 dates (2,098 average, eighth in the SAL).
Today: RedStixx (RHP Jake Dittler 3-6, 5.06) vs. Jackets (LHP Shane Rhodes 5-3, 3.16), 2:15 p.m., Lake Olmstead Stadium.
Reach Rob Mueller at (706) 823-3425.