Ryan Merritt has had the Fightin Phils' number this season. On Saturday, that number was zero.
Merritt needed only 78 pitches and 94 minutes to pitch a seven-inning no-hitter Saturday as Double-A Akron blanked Reading, 1-0, in the first game of a doubleheader at Canal Park. He struck out three batters and walked one, facing one over the minimum.
"I was able to throw all my pitches for strikes," he said. "I was throwing in well on hitters, so that opened up the outside of the plate. I took that to my advantage. I think I just trusted all my pitches tonight."
It was Akron's first no-hitter since Giovanni Soto tossed a nine-inning gem on July 15, 2012 and the first in the Eastern League this season. But it's the second time in 15 days that Merritt has recorded a seven-inning shutout against Reading.
The Indians' 20th-ranked prospect blanked the Fightin Phils on June 26, giving up four hits and a walk while striking out three. In his previous start against Reading on June 14, Merritt scattered six hits over 6 2/3 scoreless innings, giving him something of a mental edge on his opponents.
"It gives you that sense of confidence when you've done really well against somebody," he said. "I'd say the confidence is there. Tonight, I knew what I needed to do because I've had success against them before. I knew what to do to tonight."
Merritt (6-7) started the game with a pair of outs before walking Phillies No. 28 prospect Cam Perkins on five pitches. On his next delivery, he got Brock Stassi to fly out to left field to end the first inning.
The 23-year-old southpaw followed with six perfect innings, retiring 19 in a row beginning with Stassi. He threw 51 of those 78 pitches for strikes, recording eight groundouts and five flyouts.
"It's awesome," Merritt said. "To throw a no-hitter, it doesn't happen very often. I'm just trying to soak it in and reflect on it. It's a blessing that it happened.
"I would say around the sixth inning was when I was like, 'Man, this could happen.' I wasn't thinking about it until the sixth rolled around and I got a couple of outs. I just knew I had to keep doing what I was doing and not let the pressure get to me."
Merritt got a big boost from shortstop Ryan Rohlinger, who made a diving stop deep in the hole in the fifth and threw out Harold Martinez from his knees.
"I think it was a game-changer," Merritt said. "It kept the energy with the team."
The no-hitter, the first Merritt has thrown since he was a senior in high school, lowered his ERA to 3.49 in 16 starts during his first crack at Double-A ball.
"I think my year has gone well," he said. "It hasn't been a great year for me, but learning-wise, learning the hitters, learning how to not make as many mistakes, learning myself as a pitcher, has been really great."
Joe Sever was 2-for-3 with an RBI in the win.
Ben Lively (7-7), Philadelphia's sixth-ranked prospect, allowed one run on seven hits and three walks with five strikeouts over 5 1/3 innings.
Josh Jackson is a contributor to MiLB.com. Robert Emrich is a contributor to MiLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @RobertEmrich.