James Hoyt has taken the road considerably less traveled on his way to a professional career. That road almost took an historic turn on Friday night.
Hoyt tossed six hitless innings in his first start of the season but did not figure in the decision as Class A Advanced Lynchburg fell to visiting Wilmington, 1-0.
Signed by the Braves as a Minor League free agent on Nov. 15, 2012, the 26-year-old right-hander recorded a career-high eight strikeouts and walked one. He faced one batter over the minimum, retired the final 12 he faced.
"[I was] just getting ahead in counts. [My] slider was good, I had good command," said Hoyt, whose pitch count approached 70. "When I was behind in the count, I threw the sinker and I was able to use the fastball to get ahead."
Hoyt's background is a colorful one. After wrapping up his career at Palomar College in California, the Idaho native joined Yuma of the independent North American Baseball League, where he played for former Major League All-Star Jose Canseco.
Saying his experience in Yuma "wasn't what I really expected in pro baseball," Hoyt bounced around last season between two independent leagues and the Mexican League. And it was Tabasco where he advanced his career.
"What really changed things was going down to Mexico. I just learned how to pitch," Hoyt said. "I went down there with a decent fastball and the first thing I did was use it and then I got crushed. It taught me to mix in other pitches and get ahead. More along the lines of pitching and not just throwing. In college and the first year of indy ball, I just threw."
Hoyt, whose fastball was clocked between 93-96 mph, opened this season in the Hillcats bullpen, going 2-0 with a 2.33 ERA and 26 strikeouts over 19 1/3 innings in seven appearances.
"I'm pretty happy," said Hoyt, who was a starter in college. "They came to me and said, 'We think you're ready to start.' I'm pretty happy with the outing."
Ronan Pacheco followed Hoyt and tossed the seventh before Geulin Beltre broke up the no-hitter with a leadoff single in the eighth. After Jack Lopez sacrificed, Wilmington's Kenny Diekroeger singled home the game's only run.
"It was not a big deal," Hoyt said of losing the no-hitter. "We had a chance to win the game and they pitched really well. It happens."
Coming off a gem in his first Minor League start might create unreal expectations, but Hoyt considers it a learning experience.
"I think just not trying to strike anyone out," he said. "Especially in Spring Training, that's one thing I tried doing, getting all the outs myself."
Blue Rocks starter Aaron Brooks struck out five and allowed two hits over six shutout innings but also did not figure in the decision. Spencer Patton (3-0) yielding one hit over three frames to earn the win.