Former second-rounder Justin Nicolino continued his domination of the Northwest League on Thursday night to win a narrow pitching duel and keep the Vancouver Canadians in race for the first-half crown.
The 19-year-old twirled five no-hit innings, striking out nine and walking one in his best outing of the season en route to the Vancouver Canadians' 2-1 victory over the Eugene Emeralds. The victory moves Toronto's Class A Short-Season affiliate to within one game of the league-leading Emeralds with four to play.
The southpaw struck out the side in the first inning and worked around a leadoff walk to Zach Kometani in the second. That would be the only Emerald to reach base against Nicolino (5-1), who then retired the final 12 batters he faced. He fanned at least one batter in every frame and didn't allow a runner to reach third. His nine strikeouts tied a career high, set July 9 in a 2-1 win over the Spokane Indians.
The Florida native, who tops the Northwest League with 47 strikeouts and shares the league lead with five wins, lowered his ERA to 1.32 in the victory. He has given up just one hit in four of his seven starts, and the 29 baserunners he has allowed in 34 innings is the best ratio of any starter pitcher with at least seven starts in the Minors.
Taylor Cole tossed a perfect sixth in relief of Nicolino to take the no-no into the seventh, but Zach Kometani broke up the bid with a two-out single to center field and advanced to second on a wild pitch.
Jose Dore then spoiled Vancouver's shutout when he plated Kometani from second base. But the Canadians held on for the victory, despite Eugene getting the potential tying run to third base in the ninth.
Vancouver scratched across a run in the third without the benefit of a hit. Matt Newman led off the inning with a walk and he moved up a base when second baseman Rashad Ingram misplayed Jonathan Jones' ground ball. Newman then stole third base and scampered home on the front end of a double steal to give the Canadians the lead.
Jonathon Berti doubled the visitors' advantage with a two-out solo homer to left field in the fifth, giving Nicolino and the Canadians all the run support they would need.
Eugene starter Colin Rea (3-1) took the hard-luck loss, allowing an unearned run on one walk while striking out two over three innings. He lowered his ERA to 0.93 and has yielded one earned run over his last six appearances.