Virgil Vasquez has a love for the game of baseball. He loved it just a little more Thursday.
The Minnesota farmhand surrendered five hits and fanned eight while tossing his first shutout in nearly six years as Double-A New Britain beat New Hampshire, 4-0.
Vasquez started out quickly, retiring the first 12 batters in order before Mike McDade doubled to open the fifth inning. The 32-year-old right-hander did not issue a walk for the first time since April 22 and threw 74 of his 107 pitches for strikes.
"Everything was working on all cylinders," Vasquez said. "It was so much fun. Me and Kyle [Knudson] were working great together. I think the biggest thing was throwing strikes and really attacking. Last couple of starts, I've been walking guys, so that was really a focus."
Vasquez, originally drafted by the Detroit Tigers in the seventh round of the 2003 Draft, improved to 5-5 in 16 Eastern League appearances while also notching the 80th Minor League win of his career. It was his first shutout since blanking Columbus on Sept. 1, 2008 for Toledo.
"Whoa, that's a long time," the California native said. "It means that I still love the game and I'm still coming out, I still feel like I'm getting better. I wouldn't call me old, but I'm not the youngest guy on the team. I think this is my 11th year and I want to keep playing forever."
Vasquez, whose teammates include 24-year-old Aaron Hicks, 23-year-old Kennys Vargas and 22-year-old Eddie Rosario, with the latter two ranked in the Twins' Top 20 Prospects, enjoys seeing his younger counterparts flesh out their games while continuing to improve his own skills.
"I love seeing the Vargas' and the Rosario's and the Hicks', the guys that are still learning things," the UC Santa Barbara product said. "To see their talent sprouting, I really enjoy that part as well. If I get to help them, if I don't get to help them, to see them pass through, I really enjoy it."
In his previous four starts, the 6-foot-3 hurler had surrendered 16 earned runs on 30 hits. Vasquez was most bothered by the 11 free passes during that stretch.
"I just noticed that I've been walking people and that's not my game," he said. "I've always been a low walk guy just because of my pitches, that's just how I have to be. You can give up runs if you're throwing strikes. You have this belief system of first-pitch strikes, no three-ball counts and attacking with aggression at the bottom of the zone. I just remembered that and I started doing it again. Sometimes you forget and the hitters will tell you when you're doing it right or wrong."
Mike Kvasnicka went 2-for-4 with two RBIs while Vargas slugged a solo homer for the Rock Cats. Hicks reached base twice, drove in a run and started a 9-6 double play as well.
Matt Boyd fell to 0-3 after allowing four runs on eight hits over five innings for the Fisher Cats.