After spending 18 months recovering from a spinal stress fracture, Christian Friedrich was happy to carry the Colorado Springs Sky Sox on his back.
The 26-year-old left-hander produced one of the best performances of his career on Sunday afternoon, carrying a perfect game into the sixth inning and a no-hitter into the seventh. He ended up facing the minimum over seven frames and pitched the Sky Sox to a 2-0 victory at New Orleans.
Friedrich (1-2) allowed one hit and walked one batter while striking out three. Colorado Springs faced the minimum 24 batters through eight innings and allowed three hits en route to its first shutout of the season.
The win came in Friedrich's fourth start after roughly and year and a half spent recovering from a stress fracture in his lower right spine.
"The ones that are good, there's no better feeling," he said. "I wouldn't do it all over again, but with all the time off and the rehab, it's worth it for times like this."
Friedrich lost his bid for a perfect game after issuing a leadoff walk to Juan Diaz in the sixth. He got the next batter, Kyle Skipworth, to ground into a double play and third baseman Drew Garcia made a diving stop on a grounder by Adam Conley and threw out the opposing pitcher to preserve the no-hitter.
The situation -- nearly losing a no-hitter to his mound opponent -- drew flashbacks from Friedrich, an Eastern Kentucky product.
"The first thing I thought of was when I was in college, I gave up a hit to the pitcher against [Southeastern Missouri]," he said. "It was kind of a duck-snort double and we lost 1-0.
"It was funny that a pitcher got the victory and the game-winning hit when it was all said and done. Well, funny after, not funny then."
Garcia's heroics didn't buy much. In the seventh, Josh Rodriguez led off with a ground-ball single to right for New Orleans' first hit. Brian Bogusevic bounced into another double play, though, and Friedrich got Marlins No. 3 prospect Jake Marisnick to pop up to shortstop to end the inning.
Friedrich's effort slimmed his ERA to 5.14. He was stellar in his season debut on April 3 against New Orleans, striking out nine and allowing one earned run over five four-hit frames. He struggled in his next two starts, however, allowing 14 runs -- 11 earned -- over nine innings with three homers allowed.
The 25th overall pick in the 2008 Draft made 16 big league appearances in 2012, posting a 6.17 ERA with 74 strikeouts over 84 2/3 innings. His season was shortened, though, due to an injury in his back that's taken some 18 months to rehab.
The back issues began after he suffered a pair of right leg injuries during the 2012 season. As he tried pitching through the discomfort, he adjusted his mechanics to exert more force through his back and ended up with a stress fracture on the right side of his lower spine.
Friedrich went on the disabled list late in 2012. He appeared in four games last year but was still pitching through the injury. He said he tried starting up only to be shut down three or four times before the All-Star break. At that point, the Rockies sent him home to Chicago to rest and rehab. His treatment plan included a platelet-rich injection last July and a stint at the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago, where he tried to right himself.
Friedrich returned this spring and said he felt healthy but rusty in Spring Training. He's improved since the season started, with his fastball sitting in the 90-92 mph range.
The southpaw was pitching in New Orleans while his extended family gathered in Evanston, Ill., for Easter. Friedrich said his father, Dr. William Friedrich, was able to hook up the family's MiLB.TV account through their television so he, Friedrich's mother (Dr. Barbara Velsor-Friedrich) and the rest of his family could watch him work.
"That was fun to know afterwards," Friedrich said. "That and my mom was sending video of them making dyed eggs with my name on it."
Chris Martin replaced Friedrich for the eighth and retired the side in order, striking out Justin Bour. Brooks Brown gave up singles to Diaz and Skipworth in the ninth and, after Zack Cox sacrificed, walked Rodriguez to load the bases. But he struck out Bogusevic and Marisnick to end the game.
Conley (1-1) limited Colorado Springs to an unearned run on two hits over seven innings. The 23-year-old fanned eight and walked one, giving him 25 strikeouts, seven walks and a 5.24 over 22 1/3 innings. In his longest outing of the season, he recorded nine groundouts to lift his groundout-to-flyout ratio to 1.56.