SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Two starts into his Cactus League season, Alex White has kept himself squarely in the mix for an open slot in the Rockies' rotation.
"It's certainly early," White said after a strong start in Maryvale Saturday. "The only thing I can really do is just pitch, and that's the way I've looked at it so far."
White is doing more than the average 23-year-old pitching prospect, however. He's not only pitching, he's planning. White went to the mound with a plan Sunday, and in moments of crisis, the plan pulled him through.
For a starting pitcher, a key to success is a multifaceted approach to attack hitters with on subsequent turns through the lineup. Though White was only on the hill for three innings in Maryvale, he was able to use his two-seam fastball inside early to set up his four-seam fastball away, establishing expectations and using them to come back and bite the Brewers with them later.
"The two-seam allows me to throw that pitch on the outside corner, because guys [get to] know that two-seam," White said. "The first time through I show it a lot and let them swing at it. And it just allows me to go back to that four-seam on the outside corner with them thinking about the two-seam."
White's two times facing National League Most Valuable Player Ryan Braun were a perfect illustration of the head game going on when the right-hander takes the mound. In the first inning, with two out and none on, White lost a battle to Braun and yielded a walk with his splitter.
White faced Braun again in the third with two out and a man on second. The fact that he'd lost Braun with the splitter the first time up made White all the more eager to bring it back when one of the game's best hitters strode to the plate.
"I went to the split again," White explained. "Knowing that I walked him on it, I want to come back to that pitch. That was a two-seam strike one. After that [Carlos Gomez] stole second on a 0-1 split. From there, I think it was four-seams until I got, 3-2, and went to the slider."
The Braun showdown highlighted White's sense for when to play a trump card like the splitter, but perhaps even more importantly, when to hold it. White may not have thrown another splitter in his outing -- the pitch is most effective against power hitters from the left side of the plate. With nary a lefty-swinging power hitter to be seen Sunday, White set aside thoughts of setting up his strikeout pitch, and focused on his sinker to get the ball in play and on the ground early in the count.
As a result, White was fairly efficient on the day, using 51 pitches in three innings and yielding one run on two hits, two walks, and three strikeouts. Room for improvement, but notably improved already by virtue of his ability to add an effective pitch back into his repertoire.
"Just being able to repeat my delivery and really do what I want to do on the mound [makes all the difference]," White said. "From a mechanics standpoint to the ball in my hand and staying on top of it. If I can get that sinker down in the zone, I can just start it middle and let it do what it's going to do."
The slider White got Braun with should be a key pitch for him this season, offering opposing hitters something they didn't see from White late last season after his trade to the Rockies. A middle finger injury affected his grip and took the weapon out of his arsenal. With the injury completely healed, White is eager to use all his pitches to full effect.
"Late in the game with the base open right there and you got Braun at the plate -- I'm trying to take this like a midseason game," White said. "Base open with two outs, I'm not going to lay something in there for him to hit. All the two-seam-ins were setting the four-seam up. And at 2-2, I went to that four-seam. It was a questionable pitch. It could have gone either way. And then I went to the slider in the same spot."
There was no question about the result, either from the Colorado coaching staff or the frustrated reigning MVP. If White can keep putting that kind of planning into his "just pitch" approach, he won't leave much question about which way he's going come April.
Owen Perkins is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.