On a night he wasn't supposed to be starting, much less dealing with a steady rain while in pursuit of a no-hitter, Gabriel Moya looked like a pitcher fully in control.
The D-backs prospect came within one out of his first no-hitter, recording a career-high 10 strikeouts over 6 2/3 frames on Friday night as Rookie-level Missoula beat Billings, 3-1, to earn a split of its doubleheader.
Moya (4-4) got his first starting nod since an Aug. 2 loss to Helena, thanks to a Thursday night rainout that forced Friday's twinbill. After working in a piggyback capacity his last two outings, he looked shaky early against the Mustangs.
"He had a rough first two innings, actually," Osprey pitching coach Jeff Bajenaru said. "I thought it was going to be a short night because we had a full, rested bullpen. After the second inning, he just started attacking guys with his fastball, which he doesn't do often. Usually, he's a changeup guy. He was throwing balls by guys, and I haven't seen that all year. That was the key, being down in the zone with his fastball."
Using his heater, the 19-year-old left-hander refined his command and stifled the Mustangs.
"It was big-time for him because a lot of times he doesn't trust his fastball," Bajenaru said. "Once he saw some of the swings they were taking off of him, you could see the confidence in him starting to roll a little bit. He just kept throwing and mixing in everything else, as well. It was pretty fun to see."
After Aristedes Aquino reached on a throwing error by Missoula third baseman Taylor Ard in the first, Moya issued a pair of walks in the second. But he buckled down to retire the next 15 batters, even working through a steady rain that began in the sixth inning.
One out from finishing off a historic night in the seventh, the Venezuela native walked Taylor Sparks on a 3-2 pitch. Garrett Boulware followed with a flared single to center field to end the no-hit bid and Moya's night. Cory Thompson greeted reliever Anthony Bazzani with an RBI single to break up the shutout.
"He knew what a great job he did," Bajenaru said. "Even the hit, he made his pitch; he got in on [Boulware]. It wasn't a bloop, but it wasn't a line drive, either. He made his pitch, bottom line. To give it up, it just happens."
Moya struck out at least one batter in six innings and fanned two in each of his final three.
"This is a kid that I always fight for," Bajenaru said. "He's 19 and it's his first time in the States. He's in Rookie ball, facing college hitters and I've always been impressed with his composure and tempo and all that. To see him struggle early and then start getting after it, it didn't affect him at all. He just kept to his game plan. It was very impressive to watch him throw through it."
Yosbel Gutierrez gave Moya the lead with an RBI single in the fourth and Ard doubled home two runs in the fifth for the Osprey.
Moya's impressive outing came in response to a two-hit shutout by Billings' Tyler Mahle (4-4) in the opener. The 19-year-old right-hander struck out seven and walked two en route to his Pioneer League-leading second shutout and a 5-0 win.
Tyler Maun is a contributor to MiLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @TylerMaun.