Lakewood pitching coach Les Lancaster sat down right-hander Yacksel Rios for a lengthy chat after his last start. Rios, recently moved into the BlueClaws' rotation thanks in part to the aggressive deployment of his fastball, had lost that aggressive edge as a starter. Lancaster wanted him to find it.
"He was trying to pace himself," Lancaster said. "That was one thing I just kept reminding him tonight: Keep attacking hitters."
Rios was on the attack Tuesday night, carrying a no-hitter into the eighth inning and earning his second win as Class A Lakewood edged visiting Hagerstown, 2-1.
The 21-year-old right-hander lost the no-hit bid with two outs as Narciso Mesa hustled out an infield single rolled toward third baseman Mitch Walding.
Rios (2-0) logged a career-high eight innings on 102 pitches, allowing an earned run on one hit and two walks. He struck out four and lowered his ERA to 3.18 in 24 South Atlantic League games.
His previous career high for innings was 5 2/3, last achieved on July 31 with Short-Season Williamsport. His longest outing this year lasted 4 2/3 frames.
"I just did my job," Rios said. "Throw strikes, keep the ball down in the zone."
The key for the Phillies' 2011 12th-round pick was establishing his 90-92 mph fastball. Lancaster praised the pitch for its plus sink, adding that Rios' aggressiveness with the offering was a key difference Tuesday.
"He was really attacking hitters," Lancaster said, "going after them with his fastball, slider and changeup. He was able to make some quality pitches.
"He got the hitters to chase some secondary pitches. He established his fastball early in the game on both sides of the plate, then was able to throw his secondary pitches and get some outs and strikeouts with them."
Rios hit Rafael Bautista with the game's first pitch, and the Hagerstown leadoff man scampered to third on a steal and a sacrifice. After a walk to Isaac Ballou, Bautista and Ballou executed a double-steal, with Bautista swiping home for a 1-0 lead. After a fielder's choice, Rios ended the inning with a groundout.
Between innings, Lancaster and Rios worked on a small mechanical tweak, getting Rios to push his release point closer to home plate, particularly with his breaking ball.
The change worked. The Puerto Rico native issued a leadoff walk in the second, then retired 20 straight batters until Mesa's single.
"It's mainly he was dropping his elbow," Lancaster said. "He was trying, especially with the slider, trying to throw it from too far back, not reaching out. I just talked to him about being aggressive with that."
The gem was Rios' fourth start this season after making 20 relief appearances. Lancaster said the team made the move to get Rios more repetitions with his slider, and Rios said he's very happy to have worked his way into the rotation. Lancaster added that the breaking ball has flashed better tilt and location of late.
As for the no-hit bid, Rios downplayed any disappointment he might've felt over missing out on history.
"No, because I threw a good game," he said. "Maybe a little bit [disappointed], but I don't think too much about it. I just keep doing my work."
The BlueClaws gave Rios the lead as Andrew Pullin singled in a run in the third and Phillies No. 8 prospect Dylan Cozens slugged his 10th homer in the sixth.
Matt Hockenberry, a ninth-round pick in last month's Draft, worked around a double in the ninth to record his first professional save.