Justin Fitzgerald hadn't started a game since he played summer league ball in 2007. You couldn't tell by watching him Saturday night.
Fitzgerald faced the minimum over six hitless innings in his first professional start as the San Jose Giants beat the Blaze, 4-1.
The 24-year-old right-hander had made 56 relief appearances across three Minor League levels since the Giants selected him in the 11th round of the 2008 Draft. His bullpen experience is even more extensive -- he remains the single-season and career saves leader at UC-Davis.
"I knew after [the instructional league] last year I was going to become a starter, so that allowed me to get ready for Spring Training," Fitzgerald said. "It was almost like an audition. I was able to get stronger and build up my stamina in the offseason."
Fitzgerald also had something of a dry run on April 11, pitching two innings against Modesto in a game that was suspended due to rain.
"That was almost like a Spring Training outing," he said. "You go out there for two innings. It was almost like getting your work in. I guess you can call it a tune-up."
Whatever you call it, Fitzgerald was firing on all cylinders against Bakersfield. After issuing a leadoff walk to Engel Beltre to start the game, he got Davis Stoneburner to hit into a double play to begin a streak of eight batters retired.
Beltre was hit by a pitch leading off the fourth but was caught stealing, and Fitzgerald set down the final eight batters he faced. He ended up with four strikeouts.
"I didn't really get ahead of hitters. I think I threw maybe seven first-pitch strikes," said Fitzgerald, a native of Santa Rosa, Calif., who was pitching in front of family, friends and former college teammates. "I was able to throw my sinking fastball for strikes and my changeup and slider when I was behind in the count.
"I give credit to [catcher] Johnny [Monell] for having trust in those pitches in those counts."
Oliver Odle worked around a throwing error in the seventh and kept the no-hit bid alive until David Paisano doubled over the third base bag leading off the eighth.
"It's something you try not to think about," Fitzgerald said. "In the fifth or sixth inning, I glanced at the scoreboard and saw it. It's always cool to be part of history, to throw a no-hitter or be part of one."
Fitzgerald chuckled when it was suggested he set the bar pretty high in his first pro start.
"You can't expect to do that every time out," he said. "I just want to throw strikes, mix in at least one of my breaking balls and throw my changeup in there."