If there ever was a sign that someone has gotten over the hump in recovering from Tommy John surgery, Jeff Ferrell might have gotten one Thursday.
The right-hander faced 21 batters and retired each and every one, firing off seven perfect innings while striking out six for Class A West Michigan in a 6-0 whitewashing of Lake County.
The perfect game lasted until the ninth. With one out, Leonardo Castillo punched a chopper to third base that took a hop and hit Jason King in the face, allowing Castillo to record the first Captains hit of the game. The Whitecaps finished with a combined three-hit shutout.
"That was definitely the best start since I was drafted," said the 21-year-old. "When I got through the fifth, I walked off the field and thought, 'Wow, this is pretty special, I've got to keep it going.'
"I'd been struggling here recently, going five innings and stuff, so seven innings was a big jump for me, and seven innings of a perfect game is pretty good."
Ferrell underwent Tommy John surgery last June 2, and as typically is the case with the operation, it's been a long road to recovery. The effort Thursday was his first start of at least seven innings since April 23, 2011.
In 16 appearances -- nine of them starts -- this season before Thursday, he'd thrown five innings in only four of those outings. In the three outings coming into his latest one, he'd allowed 11 runs -- nine earned -- in 13 2/3 innings.
The biggest issue, Ferrell said, was trusting his offspeed pitches again. On Thursday, though, it wasn't a problem.
"It was rough right after the surgery. I went home for a few months and came to Florida and rehabbed all offseason. I finally threw for the first time in a game this Spring Training," he said. "In the beginning, first coming back, it was in the back of my head that I tore my elbow on a slider, and that held me back.
"I'm getting more confident in my offspeed pitches now, letting it go. [Tonight] I was throwing them for strikes, I had good action on the slider. I've continued to try and get my breaking pitches over for strikes more."
On Thursday, Ferrell (4-4) tossed 77 pitches before running up to his pitch count of 85. Naturally, he said it was tough to come out at that point.
"I knew my pitch count was getting up there, but when I was cruising it was feeling good. I wanted to go out for the eighth and ninth and finish it off," he said, "But I can't blame [pitching coach Mark Johnson], you have to stick to that pitch count."
The gem brought the 2010 26th-rounder's ERA down half a run from 5.02 to 4.42. He has 60 strikeouts and 22 walks in 59 innings for the Whitecaps.
Most importantly, he says he's starting to feel like the pitcher he was before the surgery.
"These last three months I've felt 10 times better, more confident," he noted. "[Tonight] felt great, everything was working for me."
Offensively, second baseman Brandon Loy led the charge, going 2-for-4 with a double and three RBIs. Right fielder Jeff McVaney went 3-for-4 with a double and an RBI.
Reliever Jade Todd threw a 1-2-3 eighth before Bennett came in for the ninth.