Chris Stratton wants to get one thing straight. When a pitcher is working on a no-hitter after four innings, he's always aware of that fact.
"You always know," he said. "Any pitcher who tells you he doesn't know is lying for sure."
The Giants' No. 3 prospect was in that exact position Monday. He gave up a leadoff double to start the fifth, but that was the only hit he allowed over seven innings. He struck out eight and walked three as Class A Augusta blanked Hickory, 4-0.
Stratton (6-2) was picked out of Mississippi State in the first round of last year's Draft, and this was his longest scoreless pro outing. Although he's struck out as many as 11 in a game, he felt Monday's outing was probably his best start so far.
"For sure. It was one of them, anyway," Stratton said. "I had the three walks, but they were more competitive [at-bats] than in the past, so that wasn't so bad. I was trying to get ahead of hitters, and Ben Turner, the catcher, called a great game. The defense was playing great behind me, so I was going with that."
The excellent turn came in front of a pair of special fans as Stratton's parents made the trip to Lake Olmstead Stadium from their home in Tupelo, Miss.
"It was good to be able to pitch well in front of them," Stratton said. "They're school teachers and it's about a seven-hour drive, so this is the first time they've had the chance to come see me."
He allowed a baserunner in the first inning, hitting fifth-ranked Rangers prospect Jorge Alfaro when Stratton was ahead in the count.
"We were trying to get him to chase up and in. It just kind of snuck a little too in," he said.
The 22-year-old righty gave up a leadoff walk in the third but then retired six in a row, striking out the side in the fourth. Stratton faced Alfaro, Ryan Rua and No. 9 Rangers prospect Joey Gallo in that frame. Rua and Gallo are in a three-way tie (with West Virginia's Stetson Allie) for the South Atlantic League home run lead with 13.
"Those were some of their stronger hitters. We got Gallo in there, and he has some unreal pop," he said. "We figured we'd go after him and see what he can do go. That was basically all it was -- going right at them. That we were able to strike them all out was pretty big."
Nomar Mazara, Texas' 11th-ranked prospect, broke up the no-hitter with a double to right field in the fifth. "He swung through a changeup down on the last pitch, so we were trying to repeat that," Stratton said. "The second time, it stayed up."
Stratton struck out the next batter, fellow 2012 first-round pick Lewis Brinson, and then induced two groundouts. He issued a two-out walk in the sixth and then again in the seventh, but otherwise silenced Hickory. Stratton's execution reflected recent effort he's poured into locating his fastball.
"Steve Kline, our pitching coach, has me working hard on getting my fastball down and away. We were able to establish that early, and in the last inning, I got to throw a couple of good sliders too," he said.
"My secondary stuff is kind of where I want it to be. My fastball, I'm working on that," Stratton added. "Steve Kline says over and over again, 'If you can go down and away from hitters with the fastball, your life is going to be a lot easier.' All of my [bullpen sessions] are focused on getting that fastball down on the left side of the plate, and on the right and down for lefties."
Steven Okert, who relieved Stratton, allowed one hit while striking out five in the final two frames.