Aaron Miller turned in one of the best starts of his young career Friday night as the Inland Empire 66ers edged the Bakersfield Blaze, 2-1.
The former first-round pick dominated the Blaze for six innings before surrendering a one-out single to Tommy Mendonca in the seventh.
It was the only hit Miller allowed as he walked three and struck out seven over seven scoreless innings.
"I thought it was an outstanding performance," 66ers pitching coach Charlie Hough said. "I thought this was his best game with us for the simple reason that he was locating his strikes."
The 36th overall pick in the 2009 Draft cruised through four innings, facing only two batters over the minimum, but he hit Mendonca with a pitch in the fifth to put the leadoff man for the second time in three frames.
Protecting a 1-0 lead, Miller struck out Erik Morrison looking and got Doug Hogan to ground into an inning-ending double play.
"He is a pretty confident kid, so one play in a game is not going to really change his confidence. But after this, the rest of the team was saying, 'OK, let's make sure we win this one now,'" Hough said.
Miller (5-4) escaped a similar jam in the sixth, putting a runner on second without the benefit of a hit. Cody Podraza drew a leadoff walk, but third baseman Pedro Baez made a sliding catch of a bunt attempt in foul territory. After walking David Paisano, the 22-year-old left-hander fanned Davis Stoneburner and Chris McGuiness to keep the Blaze off the board.
"We have been struggling, so to get in an inning where a couple guys got on with walks, but then to strike out two guys like that gave the team a big lift," Hough said.
The former big league knuckleballer said he knew during Miller's pregame bullpen session that he had his good stuff.
"He was pretty much in command all seven innings tonight," Hough said. "He threw mostly fastballs, but his changeup and slider was good, too.
"You could tell that he was on in the third and fourth inning, when he was throwing his 2-2 pitches for strike three. All you can really do then is sit back and watch."
Hough watched Miller take the no-hit bid into the seventh, but already could see he was losing steam. Even if Mendonca did not get a hit, Miller probably wouldn't have come out for the eighth.
"I asked him [before the seventh] if he was OK and he said yes, so I left him alone and let him keep going. But when he left that fastball up in the zone to Mendonca, you could see he was a little tired," Hough said.
"We're getting to the point of the season where you generally cut down pitchers' innings, but here he is throwing a one-hitter. He had 103 pitches and I don't think we would have let him go much further anyway."
Miller lowered his ERA to 2.61 over 18 appearances in the California League, where opponents are hitting just .195 against him. If he had enough innings to qualify, his batting average against would be the best in the league.
Despite the dominant performance, there are still little areas of Miller's game that need work, Hough said. Still, he believes it's only a matter of time before the Baylor University product is back at Double-A, where he was 1-4 with a 7.04 ERA in six starts earlier this season.
"He has to hold runners on a little bit better, but that is all part of the game," Hough added. "He knows that well-thrown pitches work anywhere and that a good, low fastball or hard slider works just as well in the Cal League as it does in the Southern League or National League.
"That is the right mentality and his goal is to get to the National League."
Geison Aguasviva followed Miller to the hill and gave up a run over 1 1/3 innings. Eric Krebs struck out the final two batters for his fifth save.
Inland Empire took the lead in the first on Steven Caseres' RBI double in the first. Austin Gallagher scored a key insurance run on a two-out error in the sixth.