By BLAKE TOPPMEYER
Herald-Whig Sports Writer
Home plate umpire Jerry Hocking didn't miss an opportunity to give Chris Martin a hard time.
When Martin, the Quincy Gems manager, notified Hocking that he was lifting starting pitcher Jake Powers after eight innings, Hocking acted surprised.
"He said, ‘You're taking him out now? After eight innings?'" Martin said. "He understood obviously, but he was just giving me some grief."
Martin simply wanted to preserve Powers' arm so he can deliver more gems throughout the summer like he did in Quincy's home opener Wednesday night.
Powers, a right-hander from Missouri State, limited the Springfield Sliders to six hits and led Quincy to a 4-0 Prospect League victory at QU-Stadium. He struck out seven and walked two. Powers threw 90 pitches, 57 of which were strikes. Austin Tribby worked the ninth to polish off the game.
"Maybe a month from now, maybe even three weeks from now, I'd probably let him ride that out, but we have to get the other guys in and get their feet wet," Martin said of Powers' complete-game bid. "But he did a great job of just commanding the strike zone, and he has a little swagger to him up on the mound. He's not afraid to compete.
"That's something you want to see from one of our guys who you think is going to be on the top end of your rotation."
Quincy, which plays at Danville (1-0) at 6:30 p.m. Thursday, improved to 2-0.
Martin actually considered lifting Powers after seven innings, as he is trying to limit his starting pitchers to no more than 85 pitches early in the season. But he sent Powers back to the mound with the understanding that if someone reached base, he would be replaced by a reliever.
Powers responded with a strikeout, a fly out and a strikeout to make sure he polished off eight innings.
"Honestly, the eighth was the best my fastball felt," said Powers, who can touch low 90s with his fastball. "It's odd to say that, but in the eighth, my fastball was just crispy."
For Powers, the game made for a solid return to the mound. He went 2-2 with a 4.03 ERA in 2012 at Missouri State before pitching in the Northwoods League for the second consecutive year last summer.
He was in line to be one of Missouri State's top arms this spring, but he was suspended for the entire season and didn't play or practice with the team. Powers said the suspension was for "a violation of team rules," declining to elaborate on the specifics.
Powers said he long-tossed with a friend the past five months to keep his arm in shape. Now, he's aiming to re-establish himself this summer before finishing his career at Missouri State next spring.
"It was exciting," Powers said. "I was amped up and I was ready. It had been so long."
The time off gave Powers the chance to evaluate his approach. Against the Sliders (1-1), Powers relied on his fastball and sinker early in the game before mixing in his curveball and changeup more often later in the game.
"In years prior, I would flip on my offspeed in the first couple innings," Powers said. "This time, I saved (the offspeed) for the second and third times through, and they were really baffled by seeing that. They hadn't seen anything that slow the whole game. They were geared up for hard stuff."
The fourth inning was the only time Powers allowed a runner to advance past first. He allowed a two-out single to Steve Still before William Fisher doubled to advance Still to third. Powers got Nathan Prindle to ground out to end the inning.
"He was throwing everything great and hitting his spots with everything," Gems catcher Mike Wilson said of Powers. "He's got a great sinker, and that was really keeping guys off balance. They were swinging over top of it, and he was getting a lot of swing and misses."
Caleb Howell and Nick Roscetti each went 2 for 4 to power Quincy's nine-hit attack. Howell and Roscetti opened the game with back-to-back singles, and Bryan Niedbalski hit a one-out single to left field to score Howell.
Quincy tacked on three more runs in the fourth after Jake Ivory hit a run-scoring double and Erik Maki drove home two with a single.
The Gems are the only team in the league that is 2-0 through two games.
"We knew we had a good team coming in, but to take the first two, it really sets the season off on the right tone and gets you going in a rhythm," Wilson said. "Hopefully we can win six, seven, eight or nine more in a row."