Justin Marks hadn’t been himself all season.
A 1-9 record. A 7.04 ERA. Losses in seven straight starts.
“I’ve never pitched the way I have for my entire career,” said Marks, the Omaha Storm Chasers’ 25-year-old left-hander. “Getting that feeling out there tonight was a huge step for me. Now it’s just about adding on to it.”
Marks pitched 6 2/3 strong innings Wednesday night, leading Omaha to a 10-4 victory over New Orleans before a sold-out Werner Park crowd of 9,023.
Marks gave up just one hit over the first four innings, striking out six without allowing a walk. New Orleans used three hits and Marks’ first walk to produce two runs in the fifth, but Marks pitched a scoreless sixth.
He got two outs in the seventh, and finished after allowing two runs on four hits while striking out a season-high eight. He walked three of the final four batters he faced and wound up walking four, slightly above his normal walk rate.
“I fell off a little bit in the seventh inning, but overall I’m happy with my outing,” he said.
A third-round draft pick by Oakland in 2009 out of Louisville, Marks came to Kansas City in the David DeJesus trade. He was 5-5 with a 3.54 ERA in parts of two seasons at the Class AA level.
He reached Class AAA Omaha briefly at the end of 2012, making one regular season start. But counting last year, he was 1-10 with an 8.26 ERA as a Storm Chaser before Wednesday.
Sure, he said, his confidence was a little shaken.
“You go through seven straight losses, and it’s tough,” he said. “And it’s easier when you know what it is that you’re doing wrong. But I didn’t really understand why I was pitching so badly.”
So Marks, pitching coach Larry Carter and catcher Brett Hayes fine-tuned their gameplan. More curveballs and change-ups, especially against right-handed hitters. Save the slider more for the lefties.
Oh yeah. And get ahead in the count, too.
“He threw strike one,” Carter said. “That’s the big deal. When we throw strike one, we’re pretty good. When we don’t throw strike one, we’re pretty bad.”
Marks threw a first-pitch strike to 16 of the first 28 hitters he faced.
“We were just working all four pitches in there,” Marks said. “In the past I’ve been limited because I’ve been falling behind in the count, so we couldn’t go to my curveball or we couldn’t go to my slider.”
Marks got plenty of support from a 12-hit attack as Omaha racked up 10 hits or more in three straight games for the first time since a seven-game run wrapped up May 16.
Hayes was a home run short of a cycle, Anthony Seratelli hit a three-run homer, Paulo Orlando had two hits and two RBIs, and every starter scored at least one run.
Once Marks departed, Brian Sanches left the bases loaded to get the final out of the seventh inning to preserve what was a 6-2 lead and Donnie Joseph pitched a dominant eighth.
Seratelli’s eighth homer was part of a four-run eighth, but the Chasers wound up sweating a bit in the ninth as Michael Mariot gave up two runs and needed help from Buddy Baumann to get the final two outs while leaving the bases loaded.
“I was a little worried about running out of pitching, because Buddy was the last pitcher we had available,” Omaha manager Mike Jirschele said. “But he struck (the first batter) out, and I was much more relaxed after that happened.”
Omaha pitchers combined for 14 strikeouts, and while winning two of three in the series the Chasers struck out 42 in 30 innings. New Orleans is 15th in the 16-team Pacific Coast League with a .248 team batting average, and 15th with 734 strikeouts.
“But you’ve still got to make pitches and get them out,” Jirschele said. “Even a club hitting .248, if you get behind them in the count, they’re going to hurt you. They showed that in the ninth inning.”