It's one thing for a pitcher to have a game plan but quite another to execute it to near perfection.
That's what Neo Toribio did for the Hoppers Saturday. The right-hander, only 19 years old, was absolutely dominant in six innings of work, retiring the first 16 Asheville batters he faced and not allowing any hits as Greensboro rolled to an 8-0 win.
Toribio faltered just once, when he walked John Cresto with one out in the sixth inning to end the perfect game. He got the next batter on a fielder's choice, uncorked a wild pitch, then regrouped to strike out Will Golsan to end his stint on the mound, which he made look easy.
"Yes, but it wasn't easy," Toribio said with Hoppers trainer Jorge Islas translating. "I felt some pressure in the last inning but I felt I had it (under control)."
Under control was the way he pitched all night. Toribio registered six strikeouts, but mostly he kept the Tourists beating the ball into the ground. They grounded out 10 times, popped out to the infield once and managed to hit just one ball to the outfield, which was caught.
"I had a game plan," Toribio said. "I threw a lot of fastballs because they're an aggressive team. I kept all my fastballs down and my slider away. I really didn't think about the scoreboard; I just stuck to the plan."
Catcher Zac Susi said Toribio kept his two-seam fastball down, which resulted in weak contact.
"He had a plan and he attacked it," Susi said. "That was one of the best pitching performances of the season. He was confident and having fun. Just look at the way he slapped his glove when he struck out his last batter. I let him do his thing. I was just putting the fingers down (for the sign) and catching the ball."
Before coming to Greensboro, Toribio pitched seven games in the New York-Penn League, compiling a 2-1 record and a 2.40 ERA. In three starts with the Hoppers, he's 2-1 with a 3.18 ERA.
"You have to be ready to pitch," he said of moving up one level. "They're more experienced hitters and they don't miss too many pitches."
Manager Miguel Perez said it's "a special thing" for a pitcher under 20 years old to have a plan and execute it that well.
"He started to realize he was dominating the game," Perez said. "He was working the ball down in the zone, mixing his fastball and secondary pitches."
Winston Nicacio followed Toribio with three excellent innings, which earned him a save. Nicacio retired the side in order in the seventh, then got the first out in the eighth. The no-hit bid ended when Willie MacIver laced a solid single into the gap in left-center. MacIver tried to stretch it into a double but left fielder Jack Herman threw a strike to second baseman Ji-Hwan Bae for the second out. Nicacio then retired the last four batters he faced.
"Nicacio never went away from the plan that Toribio used," Perez said.
So the night ended with the two Hoppers pitchers facing just 28 batters, one over the minimum. Only one Asheville runner reached second base and just three balls were hit to the outfield.
The Hoppers backed up the pitching with some excellent infield defense from third baseman Michael Gretler, shortstop Connor Kaiser, Bae and first baseman Luke Mangieri. Bae was especially busy, recording six assists and three putouts.
Oh, yes, the offense played its part, too. Jonah Davis led things off with a monster home run in the bottom of the first, a majestic high fly that cleared the scoreboard. That would be the only run the Hoppers needed, but they didn't stop there.
Susi smacked a three-run homer in the second inning and Luke Mangieri hit a two-run shot in the fifth. All three homers were by left-handed hitters and came off Asheville starter Frederis Parra. Later in the game, Bae got an RBI on a bases-loaded walk and Susi added his fourth RBI on a single.
"It's been awhile since I had four," Susi said. "Can't really remember. It's nice to help the team out. Jonah gave us all we needed but it's good to give our pitcher some insurance. We played a really complete game. The offense was fantastic and the defense came up with some great plays. We had it all."
The win boosted the Hoppers to 26-21 in the second half. They remain four games behind Delmarva but gained a game on Hickory (27-20), which lost its third straight. In the overall standings, the Hoppers moved past Hickory with a 70-46 record and a .603 percentage. The Crawdads are 68-45 with a .602 percentage.
The teams wrap up the series with a 4 p.m. game Sunday. Steven Jennings will start for the Hoppers.
This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.