Luis Ortiz had a full-season debut to remember on Wednesday night at CMC-NorthEast Stadium. In fact, he was almost part of South Atlantic League history.
The Rangers' first-round pick tossed three hitless innings in his first game with Hickory and Tyler Smith kept Kannapolis out of the hit column for the next five frames. The Intimidators finally broke through with a pair of hits and a run in the ninth, but the Crawdads held on for a 2-1 win.
Ortiz, selected 30th overall in June's Draft out of Sanger High School in California, walked one batter and struck out two over three innings in his Class A bow.
Smith worked around a walk over five hitless innings to carry the no-no into the ninth before Christian Stringer broke it up with a leadoff single to right field. Jacob Morris doubled home Stringer with two-outs, but Smith (6-3) got Zach Fisher to ground out to end the game.
"I thought it was one of my better outings," the 22-year-old right-hander said. "After Luis Ortiz went out there and pitched great for three innings, I came in and pounded the zone and got some results.
"It was definitely real exciting. First time I've ever been a part of [a near-no-hitter]. It was on my mind the whole time, I'm not going to lie. I knew Luis Ortiz went three and didn't give up any hits. I wasn't thinking about it when I came in, but when I looked up in the seventh, I saw there were zeros in the hit column."
Smith fell three outs short of nailing down the Crawdads' second no-hitter in less than 15 months after Luis Parra, Keone Kela, Ryan Bores and Alex Claudio combined on a seven-inning gem on May 19, 2013 against Delmarva in the second game of a doubleheader.
Ortiz worked around first baseman Ronald Guzman's error in the opening inning and Fisher's one-out walk in the second before retiring the final five batters he faced.
Smith was perfect in the fourth and fifth before issuing a leadoff walk to Ryan Leonards in the sixth. Leonards stole second but was stranded at third when Trey Michalczewski struck out.
The Intimidators brought the potential tying run to the plate again in the seventh when Fisher got aboard on Guzman's second miscue, but Smith set down the next four batters to keep the no-hit bid intact.
"It was a fastball that I tried to get down and away to the lefty and he hit a ground ball in the four-hole between first and second," he said of Stringer's single.
Ortiz, who turns 19 next month and had committed to Fresno State, was 1-1 with a 2.03 ERA over 13 1/3 innings in six games (five starts) in the Rookie-level Arizona League. He received a $1.75 million bonus when he signed with the organization on June 11.
"He has a good fastball," Smith said. "He has a good live arm and he gets on top of the ball and drives it down. He threw the fastball down in the zone, and that's big in this league. He has a lot of confidence for a kid that is 18 and making his first start in this league."
Evan Van Hoosier went 3-for-5 with a run scored out of the No. 2 spot in the Crawdads' lineup and catcher Joe Jackson reached base three times and doubled in a run.
Kannapolis starter Robinson Leyer (5-8) allowed two runs on five hits and three walks over six innings.