Double-A Richmond reliever-turned-starter Ryan Verdugo allowed just two hits and struck out 10 over a career-high eight innings in the Flying Squirrels' 4-0 victory over the Bowie BaySox.
Verdugo (3-1) retired his first 10 batters to begin the game until shortstop Nick Noonan's fourth-inning fielding error on Pedro Florimon Jr.'s ground ball. The pitcher defended his teammate, calling it a "tough hop," and after the game, the error was taken away and Florimon was awarded an infield single.
The 24-year-old left-hander induced an inning-ending double play to prevent further damage.
"That was huge," Verdugo said. "That was good for me because I have been trying to get more ground balls."
The Flying Squirrels' defense was on par the rest of the night, and the manager in the opposing dugout took notice.
"Early in the game, Florimon hit a ball off his foot, [LJ] Hoes hit one down the line and the guy makes a nice play, [Caleb] Joseph pulls a ball they make a nice play, [Steve] Lerud gets robbed by their center fielder [Juan Perez]," said BaySox skipper Gary Kendall. "I wasn't concerned too early on about our swings, but later in the game [Verdugo] made some adjustments and we didn't."
Verdugo retired seven more BaySox batters losing what was, at that point, a no-hit bid on Carlos Rojas' sixth-inning double.
"I knew what was going on," said Verdugo who said he completed a seven-inning no-no in high school and another at Skagit Valley College. "But you got to keep going."
Verdugo rebounded nicely, striking out five of the final six batters he faced to reach double-digits for the second time this season. He also fanned 10 in a May 23 start against the Erie SeaWolves. (Ten was also Verdugo's career best at LSU, where he transferred for his junior season.)
"I had no idea how many strikeouts I had," said Verdugo, who threw 98 pitches. "I have been trying to pitch more to contact."
Verdugo described himself as a fastball-changeup pitcher -- San Francisco told him he would need to improve his fastball command to move into the rotation -- but wielded a strong slider and a new cutter Thursday.
Expanding and polishing his repertoire is just one aspect of his transition from the bullpen. Verdugo went 13-1 with a 1.75 ERA in 76 games -- including one start -- with four different Giants affiliates over his first three professional seasons.
Through 10 starts this season, Verdugo said he is working to advance deeper into games. He hadn't eclipsed a season-high 6 1/3 innings until Thursday.
But the results have been there; he also has given up two runs or fewer in nine of his 10 outings.
"I don't care whether I am a starter or a reliever," Verdugo said, "as long as I am a thrower and I have a job."
Closer Jason Stoffel allowed a harmless single to ninth-place hitter Rojas in the ninth to seal the shutout -- the 10th time this season Bowie has been held scoreless.