Jake Junis had not seen his family for months. Last Wednesday, his mom, dad and sister were there to see his best performance of the season.
Pitching for the Idaho Falls Chukars of the rookie Pioneer League, the 2011 Rock Falls High School graduate and Kansas City Royals' minor leaguer has struggled.
Coming off his worst outing as a pro, the second-year hurler rebounded for his best outing since his debut last June.
Facing the Ogden (Utah) Raptors, who had scored nine runs in 7 2/3 innings against Junis in his first two starts of the season, the 6-foot-3, 210-pound right-hander delivered. He worked six shutout innings, allowing just three hits and striking out seven.
"It was a pretty good night," said Junis, who will be 21 next month. "It's always nice to have your family around. It had been a while since I had seen them. It was pretty special."
It was his first outing of his eight this season, all starts, in which he did not allow at least three runs.
His previous outing, on Aug. 1, was the worst of his pro career. Against the Orem (Utah) Owlz, Junis surrendered seven runs in just 1 1/3 innings.
"The difference was being aggressive from the start, having a positive mindset and throwing strikes," he said. "I was like, 'Here it is. Hit it.' It was about being around the strike zone and not second-guessing what I'm throwing. It was about being convinced of what I'm throwing and throwing it."
Junis was selected right out of high school by the Royals in the 29th round of the 2011 draft after turning down an offer by the Minnesota Twins in the second round. He passed on a scholarship offer by college power North Carolina State to sign with the Royals.
Though the overall numbers are not where he wants them to be, Junis is just happy to be healthy again. His debut season a year ago was cut short by elbow tendinitis, and he tore his left hamstring toward the end of spring training this year. He tried to fight through the injury but developed elbow soreness.
"I knew it was hurt, but I didn't know it was torn," Junis said. "I was out for a couple months rehabbing. It's a tough injury to come back from. You have to take your time with it. I lost time being hurt and fell behind a little bit. But, that's not an excuse. It's on me."
Junis said his velocity is ranging from 88-92 mph. He is a four-pitch pitcher, employing two-seam (sinker) and four-seam fastballs, a circle changup and a curveball. He is excited about the development of his two-seamer.
"One of the big differences in my last start was that my two-seamer was really effective," Junis said. "I was fooling around with the grip. I changed it. I found one that really worked for me."
Junis is part of a six-man rotation. He figures to get five more regular-season starts for the Chukars, whose regular season ends Sept. 8. Then, he hopes to pitch in the playoffs, if the team qualifies.
The Chukars were 19-19 and finished two games back in the first half. In the second half, the team was 6-4 and tied atop the North division through Friday. The winners of each half in the two divisions qualify for the playoffs.
So, what is a Chukar?
The Chukar Partridge or Chukar is a Eurasian upland gamebird in the pheasant family. The species has been introduced into many other places, and feral populations have established themselves in parts of North America and New Zealand.
Junis by the numbers
2012 (rookie Burlington, N.C.): 2-2, 4.15 ERA, 7 games, 6 starts, 34 2/3 innings, 22 strikeouts
2013 (rookie Idaho Falls): 1-3, 7.32 ERA, 8 games, all starts, 35 2/3 innings, 25 strikeouts