Considering how well Jose Campos pitched in his previous five starts, it would have been hard to imagine an improvement. On Saturday, he flirted with perfection.
The Mariners prospect retired the first 19 batters he faced and ended up pitching a career-high eight innings as the short-season Everett AquaSox defeated the Tri-City Dust Devils, 6-4.
Campos (5-3) allowed only four balls out of the infield over the first six innings, striking out five. He retired Brian Humphries on a bouncer to third base to open the seventh before Jaron Shepherd grounded a single to right field to break up the perfect game.
"Jose had the best command of his pitches that he's had all season," said AquaSox pitching coach Andrew Lorraine, who spent seven seasons in the big leagues. "He kept the ball down all night. We were going to let him keep pitching as long as he had the shutout."
Campos retired Tyler Massey on a popup, then struck out Blake McDade and carried a 6-0 lead into the eighth. The Dust Devils finally broke through as Ryan Casteel reached on a one-out error by second baseman Jorge Agudelo and Juan Crousset hit his second homer of the season one out later.
The right-hander, who turned 19 at the end of July, was charged with two unearned runs on three hits in his longest outing since the Mariners signed him as a non-drafted free agent in 2009. He finished with seven strikeouts and did not walk a batter.
"He beat the best team in the league tonight," Lorraine noted. "He's a lot of fun to watch right now."
Campos has won three straight starts and five of his last six decisions. He's allowed only six earned runs over 37 innings during that stretch to lower his ERA to 2.45, which is tied for third in the Northwest League. He leads the circuit with 63 strikeouts while issuing only nine walks.
Lorraine knows Campos will not have his best stuff every time he takes the hill.
"The next step for Jose is to be able to make adjustments when he's not quite as sharp as he was tonight," he said.
David Colvin gave up a two-run homer to Tyler Massey in the ninth but closed out Everett's fifth win in seven games.
Ramon Morla capped the AquaSox's three-run first with a two-run homer and Jetsy Extrano added a solo shot in the seventh.