Astros prospect Jandel Gustave had cruised through five innings when Greeneville manager Josh Bonifay finally glanced over at the scoreboard. The first-year skipper saw a lot of zeros.
"You always look at the scoreboard. I looked up after the fifth and was like, 'Hmm, that's kind of nice,'" Bonifay said.
Nice because Gustave hadn't allowed a hit. The Dominican right-hander struck out seven over six hitless innings as Rookie-level Greeneville fell four outs shy of a combined no-hitter in an 8-0 win over Kingsport on Thursday night at Pioneer Park.
Bonifay has now seen his young righty pitch twice, and he's impressed.
"He's a right-hander with a very live arm. Tonight he had a real solid night," said Bonifay of his starter, who allowed two runs over five innings in his debut at Bluefield on June 22. "He threw two pitches for strikes and was keeping the hitters off balance. He was able to spot his fastball and use his slider. He mixed it in well."
Gustave (1-1), making just his second start in Greeneville, walked three and hit another while facing 23 batters to pick up his first win. Sebastian Kessay came on to pitch a perfect seventh before J.D. Osborne surrendered a two-out single to Yeixon Ruiz in the eighth, ending the no-hit bid.
"He's a kid who's working to solidify his mechanics and allow him to be more consistent," said Bonifay of Gustave. "He's taken to doing the work we're asking him to do. He's become more consistent in terms of pounding the zone."
Ruiz's single to left was the Mets' first baserunner since the sixth, when Ruiz drew a leadoff walk in Gustave's final frame. Kingsport (2-6) actually began the game with a baserunner when Champ Stuart drew a leadoff walk and then stole second, but Gustave struck out Ruiz and Amed Rosario before popping up Jeyckol De Leon to end the inning.
In the second, Gustave beaned the leadoff hitter, Jonathan Leroux, but then struck out the side. He pitched around a fielding error by first baseman Bobby Borchering in the third, allowed one walk in the fourth, worked a 1-2-3 fifth and cruised through the sixth following his third free pass.
"Obviously there's a lot of things that take place you're worried about as a manager -- placement, positioning," Bonifay said."And when you look at the scoreboard, it was nice to see."
Osborne struck out five and allowed two singles over the final two scoreless innings for his second save.
Gustave signed with Houston as a free agent in 2010 and has spent each of the past three seasons with Astros' Rookie-level affiliates. He went 2-1 with a 5.79 ERA in 10 outings last year with the Gulf Coast Astros after spending two seasons primarily as a reliever in the Dominican Summer League.
Despite currently featuring just two pitches, Bonifay says the Astros like Gustave as a starter, a role he has filled off and on since debuting in 2010.
"As of right now, we as an organization, we're going to keep him as a starter. That's what our coordinator and player development office have for him here, so that's where they want to see him," Bonifay said.
Bonifay, who was drafted by the Pirates in 1999 and spent eight seasons as a utilityman in the Minors through 2006, said it wasn't hard to take the ball away from his starter amidst a career night.
"It's easy for me, I'm taking the ball, I do what the organization wants," he said. "They have the pitcher's best interest in mind in terms of developing his arm strength, so it's an easy call for me."
Despite losing the no-hitter, Bonifay said he was happy with his bullpen's night -- Kessay and Osborne combined to strike out seven batters in three frames.
"Sebastian Kessay threw the ball well, and J.D. Osborne threw two innings and struck out five guys. Both guys threw the ball really well," Bonifay said. "Our catcher Alfredo Gonzalez called a really good game, a lot of energy behind the plate, so it was a nice night for the Greeneville Astros."
Gustave got an early lead to work with when Tanner Mathis singled to start the first and scored on Juan Santana's sacrifice fly off Kingsport starter Yoan Gonzalez.
"Our pitchers worked their starter for 64 pitches in three innings," Bonifay said. "That's outstanding for a young group like that, so kudos to the work they were doing to be selectively aggressive. They had a good night."
Greeneville picked up another run in the seventh when Mathis knocked home Alfredo Gonzalez. Darwin Rivera led off the eighth with his second homer off reliever Andres Perez before the Astros tacked on five more runs on a pair of singles, an error and a wild pitch.
"Rivera got a big home run to lead off the inning," Bonifay said. "We did good things tonight, got the runners in from third base when we had to, and our runners took advantage of balls in the dirt."