Uceta flirts with history for Loons

Dodgers No. 15 prospect takes no-no into seventh, whiffs 11

Edwin Uceta ranks fifth in the Midwest League with 99 strikeouts over 93 2/3 innings. (Great Lakes Loons)

By Andrew Battifarano / MiLB.com | July 28, 2018 11:51 PM

In his first full professional season, Edwin Uceta has established himself as a powerful and effective pitcher who can deploy all three of his pitches when he needs to. On Saturday, he was nearly unhittable. 

The 15th-ranked Dodgers prospect carried a no-hit bid into the seventh, eventually yielding two runs on three hits and two walks over seven innings, as Class A Great Lakes cruised to a 9-2 victory over Lake County at Classic Park. While he fell short of history, he established a career best with 11 strikeouts.

Gameday box score

"He's been pretty consistent all year long," Loons pitching coach Bobby Cuellar said. "He's been getting all three pitches over pretty consistently. He's just always throwing strikes and he's confident in what he's doing. ... Just things he can do right now are throw the changeup, curveball and fastball." 

The hook has stood out as a valuable weapon in Uceta's arsenal. Last year in the hitter-friendly Pioneer League, he struggled -- at least statistically -- with a 6.59 ERA and 1.38 WHIP. With Saturday's outing, Uceta picked up his third win in his last four decisions and lowered his ERA to 3.46.  

He's been particularly dominant in his last five starts, sporting a 1.72 ERA and 1.02 WHIP with 33 strikeouts over 31 1/3 innings. Uceta also has recorded at least seven strikeouts in all three starts this month.

Cuellar, who worked with the right-hander in Ogden last summer, said the curveball is much-improved. When used in conjunction with his other two pitches, it becomes that much more effective in changing a hitter's eye level. And even at a career-high 93 2/3 innings, Uceta has been good about locating his stuff over the second half of the season. 

"He can change speeds with [the curveball]," the pitching coach said. "Sometimes when you have a fastball and changeup situation, it's basically back and forth. And then you throw in the curveball, which is higher up and down more. That makes the changeup and the fastball even better. He elevates the fastball a little bit when it's asked of him. That gives him another dimension of being a pitcher and working in and out."

Uceta (4-6) attacked the zone from the outset Saturday, throwing 61 of his 90 pitches for strikes. He recorded five perfect innings and collected multiple strikeouts in four separate frames. 

After a 1-2-3 opening inning, Uceta issued a free pass in the second to third-ranked Indians prospect Nolan Jones, then induced a double play from Jose Vicente. Indians No. 23 prospect Will Benson drew a two-out walk but was stranded when the 20-year-old got Josh Rolette to fly to left field. Keeping composed in that tough inning proved important in helping Uceta get deep into the game, Cuellar said. 

"He wasn't sitting there all flustered, saying, 'Oh, man, what happened?'" he added. "He just sat down and watched the game how he usually does. He went back out next inning and recovered and felt his way through to the seventh."

Uceta kept the Captains off base for the next four innings, retiring 13 batters in a row.

Lake County finally cracked the hit and run columns in the seventh when 22nd-ranked Oscar Gonzalez pounced on Uceta's first pitch of the inning and homered over the left field wall. Jones followed with his own roundtripper two batters later and Vicente singled to right. But following a mound visit, the native of the Dominican Republic ended his night by striking out Benson and Rolette. 

"Sometimes when you're young and you give up a homer, you're going to try harder," Cuellar said. "Sometimes less is more, and I just went out there and said, 'You're trying too hard, don't try to reach back too much.' But he's going to find it -- I'm not going to do anything there. Fortunately, he made enough pitches to get out and finish that inning. You know there's going to be trouble, you just wonder how you're going to react to it."

Melvin Jimenez tossed two scoreless innings to preserve the win, allowing one hit and one walk while fanning three.

Luke Heyer belted his first Midwest League homer and Drew Avans went 3-for-4 with an RBI and a run scored to lead the Great Lakes offense.

Andrew Battifarano is a contributor to MiLB.com. Follow him on Twitter, @AndrewAtBatt. This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.

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