When lefthander Jay Groome left the mound for the Lowell Spinners after three innings Thursday in his ongoing buildup following Tommy John surgery, it seemed the rest of the night on the mound might be anticlimactic. But righthander Yusniel Padron-Artiles overshadowed his more heralded teammate, who is the Red Sox’ top pitching prospect.
Padron-Artiles, a 22nd-round draft pick in 2018 out of Miami Dade Community College, offered more than just relief. The righthander struck out 12 consecutive batters to start his outing, setting a record for major or minor league-affiliated baseball (the major league record is 10 straight by Tom Seaver in 1970).
The 21-year-old native of Cuba finished the night with 14 strikeouts over six shutout innings in which he allowed just one hit, an infield single, to help Lowell to a 2-1 walkoff win over Batavia in the New York/Penn League semifinals.
“Unbelievable,” said Lowell pitching coach Nick Green. “It’s something I will probably never see again in my career. It’s just unheard of when you sit back and think about it.
“I tried to just let him do his thing, sit back, and watch. I gave just very minimal feedback in the dugout between innings, and towards the end I just asked him how he felt — did he feel like he could keep going? — and he said he wanted it.
“It’s pretty much like a guy having a no-hitter — not much to say, and just observe.”
Padron-Artiles was a “gut-feel” player identified by Red Sox area scout Willie Romay in 2018 based on his mound presence and feel for changing speeds and commanding a solid if unspectacular arsenal. His fastball has topped out around 94-95 m.p.h. but typically sits in the high 80s to low 90s. The Red Sox worked with him to find the right complementary mix in extended spring training this year.
“At the beginning of the year, he was pretty much a three-pitch pitcher,” said Green. “He just had the fastball, a slow breaking ball, and a changeup. The biggest thing with him was just trying to find something that could complement his slow breaking ball. The slow breaking ball was his go-to pitch, but the velo was kind of too slow. It was in the low 60s to 70s.
“We wanted to try to give him a slider that would be more of a put-away pitch, a little bit of a harder velo as a kill pitch, a pitch in a two-strike situation. It’s something he worked hard at in the throwing program, he developed a feel for it, and that’s helped him a lot to add that extra pitch to keep hitters honest.
“He can use the slow breaking ball early in the count and the slider with two strikes. He uses his fastball. He has superb command, the best fastball command on the team. He elevates, changes eye levels, does everything you want as a pitcher.”
That ability was on prominent display Thursday. Padron-Artiles located an 88-94 fastball to both corners and above the zone, while using a heavy diet of off-speed pitches for strikes. He elicited 12 swings and misses (five on fastballs, three on sliders, four on curveballs) while getting 10 swinging third strikes and four looking.
Padron-Artiles was 7-1 with a 2.67 ERA and 11.8 strikeouts against 2.0 walks per nine innings this year for Lowell. His lack of electrifying stuff limits the view of his ceiling.
But on Thursday, Padron-Artiles did something that had never been done before, all in the context of saving his team from elimination in the best-of-three playoff series.
“If a starter makes 30 appearances a year, you will have maybe less than seven or eight where everything is working, whether it’s the command, the action on his pitches, everything,” said Green. “Last night was one of those nights.
“He wasn’t predictable. He mixed his sequences. It was just fun to watch. He’s a true pro and now he’s made a name for himself.”