After inviting Chris Reed to his first big league Spring Training a few months ago, the Dodgers considered shifting their No. 6 prospect to the bullpen. They eventually decided against it, choosing instead to send him back to the rotation in Double-A Chattanooga for a third consecutive season.
That decision is paying dividends so far.
Reed did not allow a hit through six innings Wednesday afternoon en route to the Lookouts' unique 5-4 win over Jacksonville. The left-hander struck out nine, walked three and gave up two unearned runs over his half-dozen frames. Left-handed reliever Mike Thomas tossed two perfect innings to preserve the no-hitter before Suns first baseman Brady Shoemaker broke up the feat with a single with no outs in the ninth off Lookouts closer Pedro Baez.
Reed's outing got off to a rough start when leadoff man Angel Morales, who was playing in his first game with Jacksonville since being promoted from Class A Advanced Jupiter, reached on a fielding error by shortstop Ozzie Martinez. The speedster stole second, advanced to third on a flyout by Shoemaker and then scored on a wild pitch by Reed.
The southpaw retired all three batters he faced in the second and was arguably even more dominant in the third when he struck out four -- yes, four -- Suns in the same frame. That happened after Morales advanced on a swinging third strike -- what should have been the second out of the inning -- that eluded Lookouts catcher Chris O'Brien. Morales wreaked more havoc by stealing both second and third before scoring on a throwing error by O'Brien.
Reed issued two more walks in the fourth but calmed down to retire seven straight to conclude his outing after six innings. He finished with 105 pitches, 69 for strikes -- the pitch count being the main reason behind his exit while a zero still stood in the "H" column.
Through his first three starts of 2014, the southpaw is 1-1 with a 1.02 ERA, 22 strikeouts and nine walks in 17 2/3 innings. As of Wednesday afternoon, he leads the Southern League in strikeouts and owns the third-lowest ERA among pitchers who have made three starts so far.
Those numbers represent a marked improvement for the 23-year-old, who went 4-11 with a 3.86 ERA in 29 outings last season with Chattanooga and 0-4 with a 4.84 ERA in 12 appearances the year before at the same level.
Reed, whose fastball grades the highest (55) with a slider (50) and changeup (50) not far behind, was selected 16th overall by the Dodgers in the 2011 Draft after being a reliever at Stanford, and there are still some who believe his Major League fate remains in that role. But if he can keep up his early-2014 production, his future as a starter may become more and more solidified.
"He just throws strikes, keeps our guys off-balance," Jacksonville manager Andy Barkett said. "He uses his pitches well, and for some reason, we can't figure him out."
With the no-hitter gone, Baez kept the game interesting Wednesday by allowing a two-run double to Wilfredo Gimenez that pulled the Suns within a run with no outs in the ninth inning. After O'Brien picked Gimenez off at second, Baez -- the Dodgers' No. 10 prospect -- recovered by getting Austin Nola to fly out to left and Isaac Galloway to ground out to third.
Despite technically going 0-for-4, Morales contributed two runs and three stolen bases from the top of the lineup in his Suns debut.
"His speed was a difference-maker early in the game," Barkett said. "He got us on the board early without a hit, twice. He was running all over the field today. I thought he was really an injection of offense and speed into our lineup."
Sam Dykstra is a contributor to MiLB.com.