After warming up before the game on Saturday, Jacob Faria didn't feel his best. But that wasn't a bad thing.
"It's always been weird, where if I have a good bullpen before the game, my game isn't really too great and my bullpen today was OK, it wasn't bad, it wasn't great," he said. "So kind of going into the game I thought, I don't know how it's going to go. I think probably the second or third inning, I realized I had a pretty good feel for everything and thrown it all for strikes, so let's see what happens."
The imperfect pregame led to one of the best performances in the Minor Leagues this season as the Rays prospect spun seven hitless innings and recorded a career-high 14 strikeouts in Double-A Montgomery's 7-2 win over Biloxi at Montgomery Riverwalk Stadium.
"I just felt a good mix of everything. Me and my catcher, [Justin] O'Conner, had a good feel for what I was throwing and what I wanted to throw and so it was a good night," Faria said. "Everything felt pretty good."
Making his second Southern League start, Faria (1-0) ran into some trouble in the fourth when he issued two of his three walks. After starting the inning with two strikeouts, the 21-year-old right-hander issued free passes to Brewers No. 17 prospect Michael Reed and Nick Ramirez. After Reed stole third, O'Conner -- the Rays' top prospect -- visited the mound.
"He just said, 'Just stay through your pitches, nothing changes here, just keep doing what you're doing.' And that was big, just to take a little bit of a breather," Faria said. "I just went at them like I had been going out them all game, mixing everything up and eventually it worked out. The pep talk helped getting out of that inning.
"And then just going into every inning with a clear head and just going pitching by pitch, it lets you stay in a groove but also not get into any bad patterns; just cleaning my mind up every pitch, so it's almost like everything is brand new every time I throw a pitch."
The California native set down the final 10 batters he faced en route to another close call for a no-hitter. With 14 punchouts, Faria tied Mitch Talbot, who set the single-game club record in the 2006 Southern League playoffs.
Part of what led to Faria's success against the Shuckers was a changeup he's been working on since the end of last season.
"Last year, I had [a changeup]. Sometimes it would be great, other times it would be terrible. So this year I wanted to have one that I could throw more consistently and have a feel for all the time," he said. "I used to throw a circle-change, now I throw, it's almost like a split finger, it's not exactly a split, but it's like a modified one. It's just a lot easier to throw for me, to be able to repeat it."
Faria exited after 108 pitches but made sure to stay in the dugout as Jared Mortensen tried to finish off the no-hitter. Five pitches into his appearance, the 27-year-old Canadian allowed a triple to Brewers No. 13 prospect Victor Roache.
"It was a little mixed emotions. You're like, 'that [stinks],' but we're still winning the ballgame, we're still way up," Faria said. "At the end of the day, we came out with the 'W,' and that's the most important thing, so I can't be mad. He's a good hitter and he put a good swing on it and got a hit, so I was OK with it."
Shuckers starter Brooks Hall (7-5) took the loss after giving up five runs on four hits and three walks while fanning one in four frames.
Kelsie Heneghan is a contributor to MiLB.com. Follow her on Twitter @Kelsie_Heneghan.