It was such an innocuous change, something most people at Canal Park probably failed to notice and something that definitely won't show up in the box score. But it proved to be the difference for Indians farmhand Paolo Espino on Tuesday evening.
After taking the mound before every inning, Espino locked in. Rather than just toss his warmup pitches to catcher Jeremy Lucas, the 26-year-old right-hander pitched as he would in the game itself.
For Espino, it was all about getting in a rhythm.
Espino carried a no-hitter into the seventh inning as the Double-A Akron Aeros one-hit the visiting Trenton Thunder, 7-1.
The native of Panama, who's spent parts of the last five seasons in the Eastern League, recorded his 23rd win as a member of the Aeros to tie the franchise record set by Jamie Brown from 1998-2002.
"I definitely think my preparation in between innings was different," said Espino, who threw 57 of 98 pitches for strikes. "Normally, I'd just go out there and throw toward the strike zone looking for my command, but tonight I was also using a little more effort to get back into a rhythm.
"This was one of those days when I felt good. My fastball was coming out well and my off-speed pitches were really good. I was using my changeup a lot because they had a lot of lefties in the lineup. For the righties, I was throwing more fastballs and curveballs late in the count."
Perfect through four innings, Espino walked Kyle Roller and Slade Heathcott in the fifth, but he struck out Kevin Mahoney and got Ali Castillo to fly out to keep the no-hitter intact.
Espino retired the side in order in the sixth, but Roller laced a one-out double down the left-field line in the seventh. Heathcott followed with a sacrifice fly to score Tyler Austin, who had drawn a leadoff walk.
"The entire game, I was pitching [Roller] outside," Espino said. "I should have thrown a slider or something in, but I threw a fastball away. It was still a pretty good pitch, but you have to give him credit. He stayed on it and drove it that way."
Kyle Landis replaced Espino and carried the one-hitter through the eighth before Bryan Price pitched a perfect ninth.
"He was on a pitch count," Aeros pitching coach Greg Hibbard said of Espino. "While he had the no-hitter going, we were going to let him go as far as he could -- within reason. After he gave up a hit, there was no reason to stretch him out any further.
"He had a solid four-pitch mix and everything was clicking. His curveball was efficient and he threw some quality sliders to get swing and misses. His changeup was useful against left-handed hitters, and with his fastball he had good stuff to attack both left- and right-handed hitters."
Espino (1-0) and lowered his ERA to 3.86 through four starts. He surrendered eight runs on 21 hits over 14 1/3 innings in his previous three appearances.
Akron staked its starter to a quick lead as Chun Chen and Quincy Latimore delivered RBI single in the bottom of the first. Chen singled in another run in the third and Ronny Rodriguez and Jose Ramirez extended the Aeros' lead to 6-0 with RBI singles in the sixth.
Trenton starter Matt Tracy (1-2) surrendered five runs on 10 hits and two walks while striking out two batters over 5 1/3 innings.