Midway through his outing Thursday, Jacksonville starter Jose Urena picked up the scent of a complete-game shutout, and he might have accomplished the feat if the Marlins didn't value his future so much.
Following his third allowed hit, Miami's No. 8 prospect retired the next 11 Tennessee hitters. He ended the eighth at a season-high 104 pitches and didn't get a chance to pitch the ninth as the Suns beat the Smokies, 6-0, at The Baseball Grounds of Jacksonville.
"I think he was trying to sniff a complete game there," Suns skipper Andy Barkett said. "He ran his pitch count up a little bit. I think he was really wanting that complete-game shutout. He just hit another gear, it seemed like, in the second half of the game. ... He was in complete control."
Though not a Southern League All-Star like fellow Marlins pitching prospects Andrew Heaney and Justin Nicolino, Urena has largely been effective for Jacksonville in his first Double-A season, posting a 6-3 record and a 4.22 ERA over 12 games. In his three worst starts, he surrendered 19 of his 33 earned runs.
But Thursday was not the first time the 22-year-old has demonstrated an ability to dominate. He struck out seven and walked just one in his third scoreless outing of the season.
"At times he's showed it," Barkett said. "He's had some bumps in the road. But overall the kid's making adjustments, and he's starting to establish himself as one of the better right-handed arms in the league."
The Dominican Republic native gave up a first-inning double to Brady Shoemaker, a leadoff single to No. 2 Cubs prospect Kris Bryant to start the fourth and a double to Elliot Soto in the fifth. He issued his lone walk to Taylor Davis with two outs in the second. His seven strikeouts and eight innings both tied season highs.
"He was real aggressive, attacking the strike zone," Barkett said. "His fastball had a lot of life. He was using his breaking pitches well, and you could just tell he was sniffing a victory from the first pitch of the game.
"I mean, eight scoreless, there's not much more you can ask for. So I thought he did a great job."
Urena might have derived even more satisfaction by something he did at the plate. With two on and no outs in the sixth, he successfully bunted for his first hit of the season. The right-hander had been 0-for-12 on the year.
"He was [excited]," Barkett said. "It's been a long time coming. He got down a nice bunt, and he can run pretty good. He's a really good athlete and was able to beat it out."
While Urena might one day bat in Marlins Park, it will be his pitching that gets him there.
"He can't really improve much more -- eight scoreless with three hits," Barkett said. "He's just got to keep going, just keep building off of his outings and continuing to make adjustments like he's doing. Tonight was as good as he's been all year. If he can maintain this type of approach, he's going to be something special."