When Double-A Jackson announced the first two starting pitchers who would open the season, most of those who follow the Seattle Mariners probably could guess whose outing would be the most dominant.
Taijuan Walker, MLB.com's No. 5 overall prospect who was repeating the Southern League, would get the ball on Opening Day and Roenis Elias, a 24-year-old left-hander who had never pitched above Class A Advanced, would pitch the second game.
One might assume the former would outshine the latter. Then again, you know what they say about the word "assume."
After Walker allowed four runs on five hits and four walks over five innings in a season-opening loss, Elias stole the spotlight Friday, tossing six hitless innings with seven strikeouts and two walks. The Generals' bullpen, however, could not preserve the no-hitter or the lead as the Jacksonville Suns rallied for a 5-3 victory.
The dominant performance even caught some in the Jackson dugout by surprise.
"No, I wasn't expecting that," pitching coach Terry Clark said. "I know the [Jacksonville] manager Andy Barkett pretty well and knew they could hurt us like they did yesterday. Now I expected [Elias] to be good, for sure, but not to that extent. But those lefties that hurt us in the first game, he was able to be really effective against and hold them down."
Utilizing a sweeping curveball along with an effective fastball and changeup, the 24-year-old southpaw struck out two in the first inning before running into trouble in the second. He walked Kyle Jensen on four pitches to begin the frame and issued another free pass to Mark Canha two batters later. But Elias recovered and retired Jake Smolinski and Audy Ciriaco on infield popups.
That started a string of 14 consecutive batters retired by Elias, who concluded his outing by getting Danny Black looking at a third strike in the sixth. Despite the no-hitter, the Generals ended the outing after 76 pitches, 45 for strikes.
"I heard it from the whole team, definitely all the pitchers, when we told him he was coming out," said Clark, who added that Elias was quiet throughout, despite the looming feat. "Even some guys in the stands were giving me funny looks. But I told him the arm's more important than one start right now. Maybe if that happens again in three starts, but not right now."
Jensen broke up the no-no with a one-out double in the seventh off reliever Jonathan Arias. Arias, Nick Hill and Carson Smith surrendered five earned runs in the eighth en route to the heartbreaking loss.
Elias, a native of Guantanamo, Cuba, signed with the Mariners as an international free agent in 2011 by way of Mexico. In his full-season debut with Class A Advanced High Desert, he went 11-6 with a 3.76 ERA, 128 strikeouts and 41 walks in 26 starts and earned California League postseason All-Star honors.
Although the jump from Class A Advanced to Double-A is often considered the most daunting in the Minors, Elias' difficulty in the transition wasn't immediately apparent. And it's Clark's hope that the impressive outing will instill confidence in the rest of his staff, most of whom are also facing Southern League bats for the first time.
"It showed us we really do have a good pitching staff here," said Clark, a former big league right-hander. "A lot of these guys just need to get their feet wet. It's going to be a process, but when they see someone like Elias -- who is like them in this case -- step up, they realize they can do it, too."