Nathan Baker knew he had about 100 pitches to work with on Tuesday. He ended up throwing 95, getting pretty good value out of each one.
Baker tossed eight hitless innings and recorded a career-high eight strikeouts en route to his sixth win as the Class A West Virginia Power defeated the Hagerstown Suns, 7-3.
"First of all, it's a good feeling," Baker said. "I had a lot of support behind me."
The only baserunners against Baker were Steve Souza, who reached on a throwing error by shortstop Benji Gonzalez in the first inning, and J.P. Ramirez, who was hit by a pitch with one out in the second. Baker retired the final 20 batters he faced, bowing out only after reaching his pitch count.
"I realized my count was up a bit," he said. "I'd only thrown 80 in my last start, so they told me I'd be able to throw about 100 this outing. I was right at 95 after the eighth."
Gabriel Alvarado came on in the ninth and tried to finish off the first nine-inning no-hitter since Hunter Strickland and Diego Moreno combined for one last July 29, but Alvarado allowed three runs on four hits. The Power have never had a nine-hitting no-hitter from a single pitcher.
"I was a little nervous," Baker said of watching the ninth from the dugout. "We won the game, so that's all that matters."
Of course, there was more to Tuesday's game than just a "W" for Baker and West Virginia. The left-hander, whose father was drafted by the Red Sox and whose grandfather played professionally for the Tigers, turned in his best start of his brief professional career. The gem came after the Tennessee native took a perfect game into the fifth in his last outing.
"I used my changeup a lot tonight," Baker said. "I wasn't getting ahead all the time, which made me throw a few more pitches than I should have. But I came back with my change; that helped a lot."
Baker also got help in the field, most notably in the second when third baseman Jesus Brito threw out Eury Perez to end the frame.
"I had defense behind me the whole game," he said. "They were tremendous. I got behind one hitter and Jesus Brito made an incredible play at third base. It was a tough play in the hole. But the entire infield made all the plays."
The University of Mississippi product said he's been working on keeping his breaking ball down in the zone, mixing in his changeup when necessary.
"If I got ahead, I would throw my breaking pitch and fastball inside and outside," he said.
Baker was in control for much of the night, eventually noticing his no-hitter toward the end of his night.
"I think it was the sixth or seventh inning," Baker said. "I saw a lot zeros up there."
He also credited catcher Ramon Cabrera for making the right calls.
"He's a tremendous catcher, he works harder then any other catcher I've ever had," Baker said. "I don't think I shook him off once tonight. He knew exactly what to throw."
The 22-year-old southpaw, a highly touted prospect out of high school, was selected by the Pirates in the fifth round of the 2009 Draft. He appeared in six games with short-season State College last summer before beginning his first full campaign with the Power.
"One of the biggest things is keeping the breaking ball down, working on my change and working the fastball to both sides," he said. "I'm getting a little better each outing."
It will be a challenge for Baker to improve on this start.
"It'll be a little tough to follow up," he laughed. "But I'll go out and give it my best."