Ronald Herrera struggled with his command through the first few innings on Tuesday night. Considering the outcome, that was a scary thought for the New Hampshire Fisher Cats.
The Yankees prospect ended up facing two batters over the minimum over eight innings and Jonathan Holder pitched a perfect ninth to finish off the second no-hitter in team history as Double-A Trenton beat visiting New Hampshire, 4-0.
Herrera (3-0) walked Jon Berti with one out in the first inning and hit Jorge Flores with a pitch with two outs in the third. After that, the 20-year-old right-hander was nothing short of spectacular, retiring 12 straight batters until Blue Jays No. 8 prospect Rowdy Tellez drew a two-out walk in the seventh.
"He didn't have his best command of his fastball early in the game, but he was able to mix in his changeup and breaking stuff," Thunder pitching coach Jose Rosado said. "I think that helped him through the first three innings.
"After that, he was able to get his fastball for the strike and hit both sides of the plate with the fastball. That was a good combination after he was able to hit the fastball to both sides. His changeup was a plus, especially with this lineup -- they have five lefties."
Herrera fanned five and threw 69 of a season-high 105 pitches for strikes in his third start for Trenton. He also went five innings for Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre on April 16.
Rosado likened Herrera's performance to that of Cubs ace Jake Arrieta, who pitched a no-hitter against the Reds on Thursday. Both struggled with command of their fastball but fought their way through it.
"Recently, we talked about Arrieta ... he threw a no-no about a week ago," said Rosado, who spent five years in the big leagues. "He made a good comment after the game was over that he didn't have his best command, but he knows that he has good command, so he kept throwing until the command was there.
"I shared that with the whole team and that's exactly what happened today. Mentally, [Herrera] stayed strong. He knew he could throw strikes, he didn't try to do too much and he was able to get through eight innings."
Jonathan Holder came on in the ninth with the unenviable task of finishing off Herrera's gem and did just that. The 22-year-old right-hander struck out Flores, leaped to snare Roemon Fields' comebacker and fanned Berti to finish off the second no-hitter in Trenton history and first since Tyler Clippard pitched a nine-inning gem on Aug. 17, 2006.
"I'm thinking I'm gonna do my best to give Herrera what he deserves," Holder said. "I was focused on staying within myself and stick to my game plan and execute pitches and try to get the swing and miss.
"I was so excited, especially for Herrera. I'm thankful to be part of something that goes in history here in Trenton."
Tuesday's start wrapped up a solid first month in the Yankees organization for Herrera, who was acquired from the Padres on Nov. 11 for infielder Jose Pirela. The 5-foot-11 native of Venezuela has notched wins in his first three Eastern League starts and ranks fifth with a 1.29 ERA. Overall, he's racked up 28 strikeouts over 26 innings.
"Once again, this kid has the ability to get a strikeout when he wants to," Rosado said. "At this level, right now, he is able to do that. He's gonna throw a lot of strikes early in counts. [Getting strikeouts is] something you can't control until you have two strikes. He was inducing early contact, soft contact. Not having his best command of the fastball early in the game, that was his main focus. 'Let me get some quick outs and later on I will catch up with my fastball' and that's exactly what he did."
Herrera did not have a lead until the fifth, when Juan Silva doubled home Dan Fiorito. Jake Cave and batterymate Kyle Higashioka contributed RBI singles in the four-run inning.
Robert Emrich is a contributor to MiLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @RobertEmrich.