Nothing bothered Lake County starter Francisco Perez on Wednesday. Not the weather, not the walks, and certainly not the West Michigan batters.
Perez went 6 1/3 innings before finding trouble in the seventh and giving way to James Karinchak, who recorded the final two outs with the bases loaded to complete the no-hitter and lock down a 4-0 win in Game 1 of a doubleheader at Classic Park. It was the Captains' first seven-inning no-hitter since July 3, 2007 at Delmarva, which also was the second time Lake County no-hit the Shorebirds in a 10-day span.
Gameday box score
"He's a huge competitor," Lake County pitching coach Joe Torres said. "That's the first thing you notice. He wants to compete at a really high level."
Entering the season, the 20-year-old had exhibited at least average control. He averaged 3.34 walks per nine innings in three pro seasons, and as an 18-year-old in the Rookie-level Arizona League walked 2.41 per nine in earning Pitcher of the Year honors. In his last start against Lansing on Thursday, however, the 6-foot-2, 195-pounder walked seven. And against the Whitecaps, he issued six free passes, including three in the seventh inning as he tried to finish off the no-no.
But Torres said he thought Perez never really lost sight of the strike zone.
2018 Minor League milestones
"The six walks seems like they're a little high. [But] to be honest, I thought he had no issues with command," Torres said. "He had about 10-12 days off [in between his starts on April 9 and 19] and it threw his routine off a bit. But [Wednesday], he did have good command. That last inning, he maybe felt the no-hitter a little bit. The walks [in the seventh] were all on 3-2 pitches and maybe he kind of nibbled a little bit."
Despite temperatures in the 50s, the native of the Dominican Republic was in short sleeves at the start of the game. That wasn't a big factor, Torres said.
"He's a tough-minded kid, but he's never pitched in this kind of stuff. That's not going to be an issue down the stretch [as it gets warmer]," the pitching coach added.
Outside of three errors, the only blemishes on Perez's line through the sixth were walks in the second, fourth and sixth innings. The 20-year-old left-hander had never recorded an out in the seventh in his four-year Minor League career but retired Jordan Pearce on a popup to shortstop Ernie Clement, who tripped and made the catch from his knees to preserve the no-hitter.
Unlike most pitchers, Perez said he was well aware of the no-hitter.
"Yeah, I knew from the start of the game," he said. "Some guys asked me about it, but [when I got on the mound] I forgot everything and focused on throwing pitch by pitch."
After walking the next three batters, Perez was replaced by Karinchak, who struck out Alexis Garcia and got Cole Peterson to fly to left field to secure the fourth combined no-hitter in team history. Lake County has never had a nine-inning no-hitter since moving from the South Atlantic League to the Midwest League.
"That last inning, the umpire was [calling it] close," said Perez, who signed for $125,000 as an international free agent in December 2014.
Perez has a four-pitch mix, Torres said, with a fastball that can touch the mid-90s, a changeup, a big top-to-bottom curveball and a slider that is newly incorporated. When the Indians signed him, they liked his loose arm and his feel for pitching, even at 17 years old.
He's only 20 and his evolution continues, Torres said.
"It's an overall process. Right now, he's heavy with the fastball and changeup and working in the curveball. He's working to land the [curveball for strikes] more," he continued. "He'll show a lot more command."
Indians No. 7 prospect Will Benson led off the fourth and sixth with home runs to lead the Captains offense, while catcher Jonathan Laureano added a solo blast.