Drew Rucinski was on the other end of a budding no-hitter on Saturday night, but by the final out, he was the one who'd stolen the show.
Rucinski turned in the Texas League's first nine-inning complete game of the season, scattering five hits and striking out six as Double-A Arkansas blanked Northwest Arkansas, 3-0, at Dickey-Stephens Park.
While the Travelers right-hander was putting together the early pieces of his first career complete game, it was Naturals starter and No. 12 Royals prospect Sam Selman who was the early headliner.
Although he worked with traffic due to walks and an error, Selman didn't surrender a hit through five innings. The left-hander countered three walks with three strikeouts and got some help from his defense as right fielder Jorge Bonifacio cut down Anderson De La Rosa at the plate to end the second.
All the while, Rucinski quietly matched Selman inning for inning.
"I think it helps the rhythm of the game go quicker, and that always helps me," Rucinski said of working opposite another effective starter. "Whenever they're locked in, I know I've got to go back out there and keep throwing up zeros to keep us in the game. I think that, more than everything, how the pace stays faster, that keeps you locked in a little bit easier."
Two singles by the Naturals in the first and another in the second went nowhere, and Rucinski settled into a rhythm, retiring 17 of 18 batters from the second through seventh innings and not issuing a walk.
"They got a couple of hits off of me early, just on ground balls in the hole," Rucinski said. "I felt good sometimes and then throughout the game, I kept hitting my spots, getting more ground balls that were going at our fielders. We made some great plays. I was just trying to give our team a chance to stay in the game and get some runs, and I was fortunate enough to do that."
In the bottom of the sixth, Arkansas finally cracked Selman. Maikol Gonzalez led off with a triple to break up the no-hitter and scored the game's first run on Jimmy Swift's single.
"I think [getting the lead] makes me focus more, actually," Rucinski said. "I know once we get that lead and put a run up the board, it's my biggest job to put up a zero the next half. It definitely does give you a little bit [of confidence], but it's just how it goes. You fight as long as you can to keep your team in the game."
The Ohio State product did just that in the top of the seventh, and his team rewarded him with two more runs. Angels top prospect Kaleb Cowart cashed in a leadoff walk by Kyle Hudson with an RBI double, then scored on Erik Komatsu's sacrifice fly.
An efficient Rucinski didn't let the Naturals threaten from there. After Justin Trapp led off the eighth with a single, he faced the minimum the rest of the way.
"They were swinging a lot, so it made it a little easier on me," he said. "Definitely, I forced the issue. Throwing strikes early in the count kind of makes them swing. They don't want to be down 0-2 every time. It's a good way to go about it, get in a rhythm and pound the zone."
Selman (3-4) gave up three runs on three hits and five walks while striking out three over six innings.