Trio of Kernels spins no-hitter
An accomplished collegiate pitcher, Tyler Duffey transitioned from the bullpen to the starting rotation this season.
Just four days and one start into his first year in full-season ball, the Houston native looked as though he took his closer's mentality to the mound right from the very first inning.
Duffey struck out seven batters over seven perfect innings, Josue Montanez worked a hitless eighth frame and Tim Atherton struck out the side in the ninth as the Class A Cedar Rapids Kernels no-hit the Beloit Snappers, 9-1, on Sunday.
"It was a lot of fun, that's the easy way to put it," said Duffey. "I went out there and did my job, the offense put up nine runs and the defense locked it down behind me. Every aspect was perfect.
"Everything felt pretty good. I located my fastball well, and I've been working on a changeup since instructs last year because they wanted me to develop another pitch and that felt good out of my hand. My curveball was pretty good too, that was one of my go-to pitches."
It was the Kernels' first nine-inning no-no since Fabio Martinez, Kyle Hurst and Mike Kenney combined on one on April 30, 2010 against Kane County.
Rice University product Duffey was every bit as good as advertised as he mowed down 21 consecutive batters. He allowed just three balls to leave the infield, inducing nine ground-ball outs and two infield popups on 76 pitches.
Duffey had never been part of a no-hitter at any level before Sunday afternoon, once throwing a seven-inning one-hitter in high school.
The 22-year-out gave way in the eighth to Montanez -- added to the roster out of extended spring training hours before the game. The middle man walked the bases loaded before yielding Ryan Mathews' sacrifice fly ball to center field to break the shutout bid.
In the ninth, Australian right-hander Atherton struck out the side around a one-out walk to Christopher Bostick to complete the no-no.
"I had all the faith in the world in them and everybody else. I knew it was in good hands," said Duffey, who with the exception of five starts in the Cape Cod League back in 2011, has not started games on a regular basis since his time at Bellaire High School. "We're all here for a reason and we're all capable. We wouldn't be here if we weren't supposed to be."
Selected by the Minnesota Twins in the fifth round of the 2012 Draft, Duffey made 12 relief appearances for the Elizabethton Twins in the Rookie-level Appalachian League. He went 2-0 with a 1.42 ERA, striking out 27 batters over 19 innings and limiting opponents to a .154 average.
The 6-foot-3 right-hander moved up to the Midwest League to start 2013, and with the change in scenery came a change in role.
"You try to turn it on and off, so it helps having done that closer role where you have to flip a switch and go after it," said Duffey, who throws his fastball in the low 90s. "As a closer coming out of the bullpen, you're trying to strike everybody out. You don't want walks or hits and that's the same for a starter.
"This is the Minor Leagues with professional hitters where you're up against guys who can hit it out of the ballpark at any time. You can't worry about trying to strike everybody out, you have to let your defense work."
Duffey recorded seven saves and a 1.93 ERA in 51 1/3 innings in his junior year at Rice, where he was named the National Pitcher of the Week and Conference USA Pitcher of the Week. The previous year, he was named the MVP of the C-USA Championship, and in 2010, he led Rice with four saves as a freshman.
On Sunday, Kernels center fielder Byron Buxton, the Twins' No. 2 prospect, went 4-for-5 and fell a homer shy of the cycle, while first baseman Dalton Hicks collected three hits, two RBIs and two runs scored.
Ranked 19th overall in MLB.com's Top 100, Buxton is hitting .563 through four games.
Ashley Marshall is a contributor to MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @AshMarshallMLB