Cubs first-rounder Pierce Johnson had been in this situation before -- two outs in the sixth inning without allowing a hit. Just seven days ago, in fact. At least this time it was a position player who broke up his shot at history.
Chicago's 11th-ranked prospect gave up just a single while striking out eight over six frames and Andrew McKirahan worked a hitless seventh as the visiting Tennessee Smokies beat the Mobile BayBears, 3-0, in the first game of Sunday's doubleheader.
"Hopefully the front office is noticing I'm working hard and being consistent and trying to do my job as well as I can," said Johnson. "But I'm not worrying about that kind of stuff. I'm just trying to be consistent, day in and day out, working on my craft and going deep into ballgames.
"Even if I had [not allowed a hit], I would not have called it a true no-hitter having it been seven innings, but hopefully I will pull one of them off one day."
Johnson (5-4) walked two batters, uncorked a wild pitch and threw 59 of 89 pitches for strikes at Hank Aaron Stadium. The 23-year-old retired the first 13 batters he faced before walking Ryan Court with one out in the fifth. Gerson Montilla then drew a two-out free pass, but Johnson stranded both runners by striking out Mark Thomas.
Nate Samson then broke up Johnson's bid with a two-out single to left field in the sixth, but no other BayBears batter reached base against the Smokies, who improved to 58-60.
"It was just good hitting," the right-hander said. "It was a high cutter and he put his bat on it and squeaked it in where nobody was. It was a good at-bat. It is what it is. A couple balls got squared up, but thankfully, they were right at my defense. They played really well behind me.
"Flo [catcher Luis Flores] was calling a great game behind the plate and I felt comfortable throwing everything to him. [Shortstop] Addison [Russell] played hard and [center fielder] Albert [Almora] got to everything in his area code as normal."
Johnson has won three of his past four starts after losing three consecutive between July 7-19. He has allowed two runs over his previous 24 innings, during which time he has yielded 10 combined hits, allowed nine walks and struck out 30 batters.
The Missouri State product started his strong run by spinning six shutout innings against Mississippi on July 25. Last Sunday, Johnson took a no-hit bid into the sixth against Pensacola, but opposing pitcher Robert Stephenson broke it up with a single to left field.
"I just wanted to fill up the zone and let my defense work," said Johnson, selected by the Cubs 43rd overall in the 2012 Draft. "It was really hot and humid and my team didn't want to be out on the field too much. I just wanted to get them back in the dugout. It was draining ... so I was just inducing early contact."
Mobile's Archie Bradley, Arizona's top prospect, allowed three runs on six hits in a complete-game loss. He struck out six batters and issued one walk while falling to 2-2.
"He is one of the top prospects in baseball, so I knew it was going to be a low-scoring game," Johnson said of matching up against MLB.com's No. 11 prospect. "But he is an amazing arm and it was fun to go against him."