Cubs farmhand Dallas Beeler isn't too concerned that 2013 represents the third consecutive year he's spent in the Southern League.
Instead, he's used each season to hone his craft and become the best pitcher he can be. This year, he's working on improving his secondary pitches, in particular, a new split-finger fastball.
On Thursday, Beeler carried a no-hitter into the sixth inning in the Double-A Tennessee Smokies' 7-0 win over the Mississippi Braves.
Beeler (3-2) finished having allowed one hit and three walks while striking out five batters over 6 2/3 innings.
"I wouldn't say it's about seeing the same teams, just the experience overall," he said. "You try to learn from the year before and now I'm learning from last year. I knew I needed a better off-speed pitch, so I developed a split-finger.
"I like where it's at right now. I started throwing it toward the end of last year. It's like a split-change and I can now throw it for strikes, not just throw it in the dirt and hope they swing over it," said Beeler, who grips his split-finger like a sinker with his fingers spread over two seams and his thumb running up the side.
Selected by the Cubs in the 41st round of the 2010 Draft, Beeler faced the minimum through the first five frames having erased the only baserunner -- a first-inning walk to Alden Carrithers -- with a 5-4-3 double play.
Braeden Schlehuber doubled to left field to lead off the sixth to break up the no-hit bid, but Beeler set down the next three batters to escape unscathed.
The 23-year-old, who made nine starts in the Southern League in his sophomore year and was 6-7 with a 4.24 ERA in 27 games with Tennessee in 2012, was replaced with two outs in the seventh after issuing consecutive walks to Jose Martinez and Christian Marrero.
"I felt a little sluggish at first in the bullpen, but that kept my mind off the game and I wasn't worrying about it too much," Beeler said. "My sinker was working and my split-finger was good from the very beginning and that stopped me from thwoing my slider.
"I didn't have to show them my slider until the third time through the order, and then I could break out another pitch, something new to throw out there. It's just another thing to make them look for and fight off."
The Oklahoma native has never been a part of a no-hitter at any level. He's never even seen one in person. The closest he came was when Cubs teammate and friend Austin Kirk threw a complete-game no-hitter for Class A Peoria on July 4, 2011, four weeks after he was promoted to Tennessee.
"It's always nice to finish the seventh inning, but I could see where the manager was coming from," Beeler said. "It wasn't a big deal. I walked those two guys, I was getting behind in the count and I was trying to spot the ball too much inside rather than letting the ball do the work.
"I'm a ground-ball pitcher and they were swinging from the first inning. If they swing early, that keeps my pitch count down. I know my game, I'm not going to dazzle people with a ton of strikeouts. I'm trying to get them to hit ground balls, so I know I'll give up some hits."
Southpaw Zach Rosscup took the one-hitter through the eighth and right-hander Brian Schlitter worked around a pair of ninth-inning hits and one walk to strand the bases loaded and complete the shutout.
Mississippi starter JR Graham (1-2) allowed three runs on seven hits and three walks while striking out six batters over 5 1/3 innings.