Aaron Blair had a little more incentive to pitch well Monday.
In addition to making his Double-A debut for Mobile, the D-backs' third-ranked prospect was also squaring off against a close friend in Pensacola's Ben Lively.
Both pitchers turned in six scoreless innings before Lively's lack of command caught up with him in the seventh. Ultimately, Blair scattered four hits and struck out nine across 6 2/3 shutout frames to earn the bragging rights in the BayBears' 6-3 victory over the Blue Wahoos.
"I've known him for about four years now," Blair said. "It kind of had a different edge to it, throwing against such a good friend."
While Blair (1-0) didn't have to wait long for his first Southern League win, Lively (0-4) has made six starts without receiving one. With four more strikeouts Monday, though, the Reds' No. 12 prospect regained the Minor League lead with 135. Blair isn't far behind, as the righty has fanned 134 this season.
"We're really good friends," Lively said. "I played against him in college, played with him up in Cape Cod. It was pretty funny. We were both giving each other fastballs when we were hitting against each other. It was pretty funny because we knew what was going on.
"But yeah, it's always fun to pitch against somebody you're friends with. It kind of keeps you settled down a little bit, because you kind of want to show him up a little bit in a way. But I'm really pumped that he did really good for his debut. It could have gone either way."
Ben Lively notched four more strikeouts to push his Minor League-leading total to 135. (Michael Spooneybarger)
For Lively, it was all fun and games until Blair managed a single off him during the fifth inning. That was the first of only two hits allowed by the University of Central Florida product all game.
"This is the first time I've had an at-bat in four years, and in my second at-bat, I broke up his no-hitter," said Blair, who attended Marshall University. "He was kind of mad about that. But he hit some hard line drives off me. I got the hit, but he probably got the two hardest hit balls of the night."
Added Lively: "I kind of looked at him at first base and he just put his head down and started laughing."
Following six starts at Class A South Bend and 13 starts at Class A Advanced Visalia, Blair did not flinch while staring down a Double-A lineup for the first time. Arizona's Minor League Pitcher of the Month for June didn't issue a walk in his outing.
Meanwhile, Lively battled wildness for most of the evening, but kept his opponent off the board until the seventh. After walking the first two batters, he was replaced by Carlos Gonzalez, who served up a sacrifice fly to Mark Thomas. In six-plus innings, the right-hander was charged with a run on two hits and a career-high seven walks.
"You can look back in college, same story," Lively said. "Every time we pitched against each other, zeros the whole game. I was talking to [Robert] Stephenson … like right before I went out for the seventh inning. I was like, 'I swear to God, every time I pitch against this kid, it's 0-0 all the way to the eighth or ninth inning.'
"It kind of made me laugh a little bit, probably threw me off, which is why I walked the first two batters and got pulled. ... [But] what he did tonight, if he can keep doing that, he'll be fine. He needs to start telling me how to do some things around here."