No hitters never happen at Heritage Park in Adelanto, Calif. Heck, shutouts rarely happen there. The home of the Class A High Desert Mavericks is a wind-swept hitter’s dream where routine fly balls can turn into homers if elevated into the jet stream shooting out from behind home plate.
But on Wednesday night in that purgatory for pitching, three High Desert pitchers – starter Tyler Pike and relievers Mark Bordonaro and Blake Hauser – combined to throw a no-hitter against the Rancho Cucamonga Quakes.
It was the first no-hitter ever thrown at the park and just the second in franchise history.
“It feels good, especially doing it there,” Pike said on Thursday morning. “That’s a place where you would never think it would happen. But I think we only had one ball go to the outfield the whole game. It’s crazy how things work out. But it was a blast.”
Pike tossed six hitless innings, walking two batters and striking out eight. But he didn’t get the win. He left with the game scoreless at 0-0. Bordonaro came on and pitched the seventh – striking out the side. He walked two in the eighth inning, but got a big double play to end the inning. The Mavericks took the lead in bottom of the eighth when Jordy Lara and DJ Peterson hit two-run homers each.
Manager Eddie Menchaca turned to closer Blake Hauser, who walked the lead-off hitter, but then got a double play. He hit a batter and then struck out Chris Jacobs to end the game.
“Seeing Blake go out there and doing his thing like he always does was pretty fun,” Pike said.
Like most no-hitters – singular or combined – there was plenty of key plays made to secure it, Pike credited his teammates.
“We had some really good defense behind us,” Pike said. “(DJ) Peterson made a couple great plays behind me. (Tyler) Smith made a great over the shoulder catch. (Aaron) Barbosa made a diving catch in center. I wasn’t in the dugout for the seventh and eighth inning and I heard we turned a pretty sweet double play in the eighth inning. Everything has to come together in a game like that – defense and timely hitting.”
Like most pitchers, Pike had no idea what was going on at first.
“About the fourth inning, I was talking to someone on the bench and I happened to look up at the scoreboard,” he said. “I noticed they didn’t have any hits. But I didn’t get nervous at all, I just knew I had to keep throwing the way I had been and whatever happens, happens.
Pike didn’t know his night was going to be that special, but as he warmed in the bullpen, he felt locked in.
“I felt good coming straight from the bullpen,” he said. “My arm felt good. I felt like I was locating good. My catcher, Steven Baron, said everything felt just different that night. That first inning I was spotting up my pitches. They were all working. I felt like it was going to be a pretty good night.”
It’s been an interesting season for Pike. Rated as the No. 6 prospect in the Mariners organization by Fangraphs and No. 9 by MLB.com, he went 7-4 with 2.37 ERA in 22 starts with 90 strikeouts in 110 1/3 innings for Class A Clinton last season. But he knew going into the season that pitching in High Desert was going to be a challenge. He heard about it from other pitchers in the organization.
“They pretty much told me that the whole league isn’t great to pitch in, but especially High Desert and Lancaster , which are launching pads,” he said. “Everything else plays pretty true – Lake Elsinore, Inland – they all play like a true ball park. Bakersfield the ball doesn’t fly there at all, but then coming back to High Desert, it’s totally the opposite.”
The first time he realized how bad it could be came on May 2 in a start at home against Visalia. He pitched 4 2/3 innings, giving up five runs on four hits with four walks and five strikeouts.
“I gave up three home runs in four innings,” he said. “One of them for sure would have been a no doubt home run. But the other two – the wind was blowing straight out – and I had them way out in front of change-ups and both fly balls went out. You see get up in the air and it just hangs up there and keeps going and going and there’s nothing you can do about it.
Coming into Wednesday’s start, Pike was 2-2 with a 5.57 ERA in 10 starts. In 42 innings pitched, he had struck out 32 batters and walked 32. The numbers aren’t indicative of the type of pitching prospect that he is.
“It’s been a little rough,” he said. “I’m just trying to get used to everything. It’s a tough league to pitch in. I’d been struggling. I knew coming that this is not a fun place for pitchers to be. And I think I was just trying a little bit too hard to do everything.
It’s not the first time that pitching in the Cal League, particularly High Desert has gotten into the head of a pitcher.
“I think it affected for me for a little while,” he said. “I was trying not to miss over the middle and I was trying to pick at corners and I would end getting myself in trouble, falling behind and walking guys. For a while, my walks were higher than my strikeouts, and that’s not good.
Pike’s season hit a low point in a start in Bakersfield on May 23. He made it just two innings, giving up seven runs on five hits with two talks, no strikeouts and two home runs allowed.
“Ever since my last start at Bakersfield, I’ve been trying to simplify everything and just work down in the zone, throw everything for strikes instead of trying strike everybody out,” he said. “And it’s had the opposite effect. I wasn’t really trying to do anything yesterday and I struck out eight. I’m just trying to simplify.”
Pike realized that he couldn’t be afraid of contact with his stuff.
“The last couple of starts I’ve been just letting them hit it,” he said. “They’re still going to get themselves out 7 out of 10 time even if they are a good hitter. The odds are in your favor and just let them hit the ball and let your defense do what it can. Hope for the best and hope that wind doesn’t catch it.”
The realization that the process and execution can be more important than the result is something that all young minor league pitchers need to figure out.
“You can’t worry about what happens when you know you made a good pitch,” Pike said. “If he gets lucky and gets one up in the air and it goes out, there’s nothing you can do. You just keep your head up and there’s one for High Desert. Everyone knows you are throwing good pitches and working hard.”
There was some discussion about having Pike skip High Desert and go straight to Class AA Jackson like his Clinton teammate Victor Sanchez. And while pitching in the Cal League isn’t ideal, Pike is using it as a learning experience.
“I think even though it’s not a good place for pitchers to go to, it still can be good for them,” he said, “It certainly teaches you how to pitch. I know that now. I’m starting learn you have to keep the ball down. I’ve been talking to guys that were here and got moved to Double A. They said the biggest thing is keeping the ball down, because up there if you leave it up, Double A hitters are going to hit it. The way things worked for me, I don’t think it would have been pretty if I started in Double A. So I’m content where I am. I’m only 20. I have time. I just have to do what I do and they will move me up whenever they think I’m ready.”
Class AAA Tacoma
Taijuan Walker made his first rehab start last night for the Rainiers. Walker pitched three innings, giving up four runs on five hits with three strikeouts and no walks. He threw 61 pitches and then 14 more in the bullpen. Here’s some video of Walker throwing. Xavier Avery went 3-for-4 in the 5-3 loss. From the report: Avery has hit safely in 7 of his last 8 games, batting .3417 (10×24) with 4 runs scored, 1 double, 1 home run, 6 RBI, 6 walks and 4 stolen bases. Avery currently lead the PCL with 18 stolen bases.
Class AA Jackson
The Generals were rained out yesterday. They will play a doubleheader today.
Class A Clinton
The LumberKings were roughed up by Kane County, 7-1. Clinton hitters left 10 runners on base in the loss. Marcus Littlewood hit a homer in the loss.
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