Justin Nicolino fired six shutout innings, and the New Orleans Zephyrs blanked the Nashville Sounds in Saturday's series opener, 5-0.
Nicolino has allowed just one unearned run over his last three starts, lasting six innings each time, to drop his ERA to a miniscule 0.79.
"Biggest thing coming into tonight was command of the fastball," Nicolino said. "All year, doing that has allowed me to go out there and let the guys play some good defense behind me and the offense has been picking me up."
The left-hander did encounter some trouble in the third inning. Singles by Andy Parrino and Blake Forsythe sandwiched around a walk to Anthony Aliotti loaded the bases with no outs, but Nicolino induced a pair of grounders resulting in force outs at the plate, and got Alden Carrithers to hit an inning-ending ground out to keep the game scoreless.
"The defense came up huge for me in the third inning," Nicolino said. "Bases loaded, nobody out, the biggest thing for me was making my pitches and give them a chance to work, and I was able to do that and they came up huge for me three outs in a row."
New Orleans was kept off the board by Sounds starter Barry Zito until the fifth. Isaac Galloway laced a leadoff single to left, and an errant throw by Parrino on a potential double play grounder put runners at second and third. Miguel Rojas lifted a sacrifice fly to score Galloway and advance Jordany Valdespin to third, and Vinny Rottino followed with a sacrifice fly of his own to give the Z's a 2-0 lead.
Galloway was in the middle of another rally in the seventh, going the opposite way to triple off the right field wall and scored when Valdespin provided the Zephyrs with their third sacrifice fly of the game.
The Z's tacked on two insurance runs in the eighth, including an RBI single by Austin Wates to extend his hitting streak to a modest five games, and Carter Capps retired the side in order to preserve the Zephyrs' first shutout of the season.
Nicolino (2-0) struck out three and walked two to win his second start in a row. Zito (0-1) was charged with three runs - one earned - and allowed only three hits in seven innings to take the loss.
Rojas drilled a first-inning single to bring his hit streak to 12 games, tied for the longest in the Pacific Coast League this year.
The Zephyrs and Sounds continue the series on Sunday at 1 p.m.