Fresno Grizzlies pitcher Mike Kickham entered Tuesday having enjoyed most of his success away from Chukchansi Park.
He had drastic splits — 1-3 with a 6.33 ERA in four starts at home compared to 3-2 with a 2.98 ERA on the road.
But the left-hander finally gave the home crowd something to cheer about again, even if it started out rocky.
Kickham loaded the bases in the first but limited the damage to one run. And by the end of the night, he had helped pitch the Grizzlies to a 3-2 win over Iowa, limiting the Cubs to two runs on five hits while walking three and striking out eight in six innings before an announced crowd of 3,149.
"Just from the very get-go, I had to grind through it," he said. "After that, I wanted to at least get to six (innings). My sinker, slider started working, and I was able to mix in a few curveballs, a few changeups.
"The biggest thing for me was keeping the ball down," Kickham said. "Sometimes as the game goes on, my ball seems to flatten, so I try to think about throwing downhill all the time and use some of my movement to my advantage."
Kickham studied the Cubs closely Monday while charting the Grizzlies' 17-2 loss — with Fresno pitchers giving up 17 hits and a season-worst 11 walks.
Against Kickham, the Cubs had two extra-base hits — a night after hitting three homers, including two grand slams.
"They're an aggressive team," Kickham said. "I was sitting back there charting and noticed all the balls they hit well were up in the zone. I just really wanted to have the sinker working today, get the groundballs and not give up the big hit."
Prior to Tuesday, Kickham's last strong start at home came April 24, with eight scoreless innings against Albuquerque.
Three starts later, on May 15, and again facing the Isotopes at home, Kickham lasted just two innings after giving up nine runs on 11 hits, including three homers.
"He's like every pitcher here — he's got to stay consistent with his release (point) and delivery," pitching coach Dwight Bernard said earlier Tuesday. "There's times when Kickham's showed flashes and other times when it looks like he's regressed.
"It's a constant game of adjustments."
After the rough outing against the Isotopes, Kickham said, he told himself to try to not do too much and slowly work his way back to .500. He suffered one more loss at home before reeling off three straight wins on the road. With Tuesday's victory, he's now 5-5 and his 3.88 ERA is lowest among Grizzlies starting pitchers.
"I've just been trying to put us in a position to win," he said.
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