Christian Jones was in uncharted territory when he came out to pitch the seventh inning, but he didn't mind. He was experimenting with a new pitch and he was having fun doing it.
The Giants prospect said it was like playing with a new toy.
Jones carried a no-hitter into the eighth inning as Class A Augusta rolled to a 9-4 victory at Hickory. He ended up allowing three runs -- one earned -- on three hits and a walk while striking out seven over a career-high 7 1/3 frames.
"It was a pretty good outing today," Jones said. "Against this competition and at the level I'm at, it's probably the second-best outing I've had in my life."
Jones (2-3) set down the side in the first two innings and rolled a double-play ball to erase Travis Demeritte's leadoff walk in the third. That ground ball started a run of 15 consecutive outs before the Crawdads started to figure him out.
Ryan Cordell singled to left field to break up the no-hit bid with one out in the eighth and Kevin Torres and Demeritte followed with singles to end Jones' shutout.
"The pitch selection that I chose was a 1-1 changeup," Jones said of Cordell's base hit. "I left it belt-high. I kept throwing my changeup for balls off the plate. [At] 1-1, I threw it for a strike belt-high and he did what he is supposed to do with it.
"I didn't feel like I was getting too tired because my pitch count was still down. My arm was feeling pretty good, but [Torres' hit] was a chopper that got through the infield and [Demeritte's hit] was a 3-1 pitch, and he was sitting on a fastball."
Augusta turned to its bullpen, but a two-out error by right fielder Tyler Horan allowed two more runs to score. Both were unearned against Jones, who had not pitched past the sixth inning in his professional career.
Selected by the Giants in the 18th round of the last year's Draft, Jones said his only better outing came as a sophomore at the University of Oregon when he threw eight shutout innings against archrival Oregon State, which was ranked third in the nation.
"My slider was working pretty good today and they had a lot of lefties in their lineup, so that helped," the 23-year-old southpaw said. "I threw a four-seam fastball, a changeup and a recently developed two-seam fastball. I was throwing it down in the zone and getting a lot of ground balls with it.
"I started throwing [the two-seamer] one week ago. I was a little nervous with it at first because I haven't thrown it in a game before, only in one bullpen [session]. I didn't know if it would work or if they would hit it, but at the same time, it was exciting because I had a new toy to play with."
The reason behind introducing the new pitch was that his four-seam fastball was getting hit hard in his past two starts. He said the spin on his fastball was different to the spin on his changeup, so hitters could sit on specific pitches and tell what was coming.
But Jones said the two-seam fastball comes in a tick slower than the four-seamer and has a rotation that is similar to the changeup, so opponents can't differentiate between the two pitches as easily.
"I needed something that tipped the hitters off a little less," he said.
Jones gave up two runs on four hits in one inning in his season debut on April 8 at Savannah, but he rebounded with five hitless innings against the Sand Gnats six days later, then hurled six shutout frames against Hagerstown the following week.
The California native failed to pitch more than 4 1/3 innings and surrendered four runs in each of his previous two starts.
"In those other games, I was falling behind hitters, 1-0, 2-1, 2-0," he said. "I was falling into hitters' counts. They were sitting on fastballs and hitting fastballs. Today, I threw more than one pitch for a strike and put them on the defensive."
Augusta built a 7-0 lead midway through Sunday's game, with Ryder Jones smacking a three-run homer and Horan adding a two-out shot. Eugene Escalante doubled twice, walked, scored three runs and plated one.
Hickory's Cole Wiper (1-5), Jones' friend and teammate at Oregon, allowed seven runs on five hits and two walks while striking out six over six innings.
Ryan Cordell was 2-for-4 with a solo homer, his first of the year, and two runs scored for the Crawdads.