As a pitcher in the Tampa Bay organization, it's easy to get lost in the shuffle. With the Rays boasting a strong, deep rotation at the Major League level and three pitchers on MLB.com's list of Top 100 Prospects, keeping pace is a daunting task.
As Double-A Montgomery pitching coach R.C. Lichtenstein watched Victor Mateo work Saturday night, he saw someone determined to break from the pack.
"I think this is the stamp on his second half, saying, 'Don't go to sleep on me. There's a lot more pitcher in me.'" Lichtenstein said. "He wants to make sure he's on the map."
Mateo's statement couldn't have been more emphatic. He pitched his second career no-hitter, allowed just one baserunner and, thanks to a double play, faced the minimum in the Biscuits' 3-0 win over Jacksonville.
The gem came just over two years after Mateo recorded the first no-hitter in Bowling Green history in a seven-inning affair.
Lichtenstein also was the pitching coach on that 2011 Hot Rods club. In fact, Saturday's no-hitter was the sixth he's seen during his eight-year tenure with the Rays.
The 45-year-old embraced Mateo near the third-base line at Riverwalk Stadium, telling the 24-year-old he was proud and handing Mateo the ball he used to retire Danny Black for the final out.
"I was as proud as a papa can be two years ago and I had the same feeling tonight," Lichtenstein said. "I was living and dying with every pitch, rooting for him. He's not just a quality pitcher, but he's a fabulous young kid who you want to root for."
The performance is the highlight of Mateo's strong second half that has washed away the memory of his first-half struggles. In much the same way he struggled in the first half of 2011 under Lichtenstein, Mateo faltered out of the gate this season with a 6.51 ERA in his first 14 appearances (13 starts).
Lichtenstein was struck by how hard the right-hander from the Dominican Republic worked to turn his season around. The fruits of that labor are blossoming, with Mateo now boasts a 2.03 ERA in 12 second-half starts.
"He continued to believe in himself and continued to get his work in," the pitching coach said. "He's dominated in the second half. He's gained a ton of confidence and he's executed his pitches so much cleaner."
The complete game was Mateo's second since the All-Star break. The other was a seven-inning one-hitter against Pensacola on July 13.
Two starts after that, Mateo carried a no-hitter into the seventh against Jacksonville, but that bid at history was spoiled when the Suns belted three consecutive home runs and chased the hurler after 6 2/3 innings.
Jacksonville had no such luck Saturday. After striking out Austin Barnes to begin the game, Mateo walked Marlins No. 8 prospect J.T. Realmuto. The right-hander erased him by getting Alex Burg to bounce into a double play and did not allow another baserunner the rest of the night.
Mateo struck out five and completed the ninth inning with minimal drama. He induced a weak groundout from Zack Cox, who chopped a ball to second baseman Ryan Brett. Michael Main slapped a grounder to the left side that third baseman Robby Price scooped and fired to first for the second out.
Black made Mateo work after falling into a 1-2 hole. The left-handed hitter fouled off a pair of pitches, then swung over a cutter down and away to end the contest.
The no-hitter required Mateo to retire Derek Dietrich three times; the two were teammates with Bowling Green in 2011.
The no-hitter was the second in team history, the first since Matt Moore blanked Mobile on June 16, 2011 and the first at Riverwalk Stadium.
Over his past 10 starts, Mateo boasts a 1.58 ERA. Lichtenstein said he turned a notable corner midway through the season and thinks the performance can gain Mateo a little well-earned respect in the team's deep farm system.
"Obviously, it was similar to the no-hitter two years ago," Lichtenstein said. "This is a cut above because it's nine innings. He's flirted with some really solid games earlier this year. He's just showing that that was a turning point."