Three right-handed batters came to the plate Thursday for Altoona in the second inning at Hadlock Field.

Left-hander Trey Ball challenged with fastballs inside, setting up his splitter and slider.

Strikeout. Strikeout. Strikeout.

“For him to be able to pound inside just opens up the entire outside half of the plate, to allow that splitter to work,” said Portland Sea Dogs catcher Jordan Procyshen. “He can also go back foot with that slider.”

Ball, 23, a first-round draft choice (seventh overall) in 2013, gave another glimpse of the potential the Boston Red Sox saw in him when they chose him out of New Castle High in Indiana.

Thursday marked the third time this year that Ball had pitched at least six innings without allowing a run. He went seven innings – with an economical 89 pitches – allowing four hits and one walk, striking out nine to tie a career best.

“Yeah, it was a very good outing,” Ball said matter-of-factly. “Made some pitches and let the defense work.”

Ball’s calm tone doesn’t represent the aggression he brings to the mound – often too aggressive. Ball wants to excel, sometimes at his peril.

“We’ve talked a lot about controlling his aggression level,” said Portland pitching coach Kevin Walker. “Sometimes that haunts him a little bit, trying to do too much. When he does that, he mislocates pitches.

“Today, he was a lot more under control and put the pitches where he wanted to. You saw the difference.”

Ball’s fastball hits 91 mph – not overpowering but effective when pinpointed.

“Everything was working off his fastball,” Procyshen said. “He was able to locate it down and in, up and in, down and away … wherever he wanted to put that fastball, he was hitting the glove.”

At times, Procyshen has been lunging with his glove. Ball can be wild. He came into Thursday with 50 walks in 105 innings. His WHIP was 1.84, tied for highest on the Portland staff.

But on Thursday, Ball allowed only one hit and one walk through the first four innings – and both baserunners were erased on double plays.

“He threw the ball with conviction,” said Manager Carlos Febles. “The ability to throw the secondary stuff for a strike was huge.”

Conviction will bring Ball far. You hear all the time that talented athletes need only to have confidence in their ability, and not press (see Devers, Rafael).

No telling if Ball will bloom into a major league starter, but his stuff looked good enough Thursday.

“Just going outing by outing and working on things in between,” Ball said. “Trying to stay consistent with everything.

“Recently I’ve been working on throwing the ball hard late, and not early when I tense up and the ball is going everywhere.”

In Ball’s two previous starts, both against Bowie, he didn’t get out of the fifth inning (needing 88 pitches for one game, and 90 for the other). He allowed a total of 21 hits, five walks and 10 earned runs.

“The name of the game with Trey is just being consistent,” Walker said.

Ball’s record is 6-10 and his ERA is 5.46. But there are some gems to be found. In nine of his 21 starts, he’s allowed two earned runs or fewer.

Everyone expects first-rounders to rush up to the big leagues – a la Benintendi, an outfielder who played in college – but Ball is grinding away. Boston has time. While Ball is eligible for the Rule V draft this offseason, it would be quite a gamble for a team to pick him and stick him on a major league roster for the entire 2018 season.

Ball won’t be a minor league free agent for two years – two more seasons to find that consistency.

Kevin Thomas can be reached at 791-6411 or:

[email protected]

Twitter: @ClearTheBases