The day after arguably his worst pro start -- six runs allowed over two innings on July 6 in Kannapolis -- Greensboro's Charlie Lowell walked into the coaches' office. There, he found batting coach Kevin Randel, who told him directly and succinctly, "When you pound the zone and have good tempo, you're going to have success."
"I was taking a lot of time in between pitches, stepping off the mound, getting the rosin, taking deep breaths and I was giving guys a chance to think about what just happened or what was going to happen next," Lowell said of his slow pace on the mound. "Now I am speeding them up; maybe I can get 'em when I'm ready and they're not."
In two starts following the advice that Lowell said he took to heart, he was nearly unhittable. In the third, on Saturday night at Asheville, he was completely unhittable.
The Marlins prospect struck out nine and pitched seven no-hit innings in the Grasshoppers' 3-1 victory over the Tourists at McCormick Field.
Lowell (5-4) struck out the side in the fourth and fifth frames and had retired 10 in a row when Tourists shortstop Trevor Story reached on a two-out error in the sixth. The 21-year-old left-hander also walked one batter, plunked another and was the beneficiary of one double play.
"The one ball they gave [shortstop] Austin [Nola] an error on, that was a tough play; it took a tough hop on him," Lowell said. "That was all, really. They didn't barrel anything up."
Pitch No. 107 was his last, and the Grasshoppers' combined no-hit bid ended soon after his exit. Lefty reliever Gregory Nappo, who contributed to the club's April 24 no-no at Hickory, yielded Taylor Featherston's leadoff double and Brian Humphries' ensuing RBI triple in the eighth. Right-hander Collin Cargill pitched around Samuel Mende's single in the ninth to earn his second save.
How much Lowell wanted to decide his own fate was outweighed by his sense of where he is in his career: 22 games in.
"You don't want to be a guy that throws a Low-A no-hitter and never pitches in the big leagues," he said, appreciating the developmental focus of the South Atlantic League.
The effort was Lowell's second consecutive sterling outing. On Monday, he flirted with a no-hitter and struck out a career-high 14 against Kannapolis. He preceded that gem with six innings of two-hit, two-run ball against Hagerstown.
"The last three starts," he said, "I've had all three pitches working really well. Whenever I've need a pitch, it's usually there."
Through 18 starts overall, Lowell -- Miami's sixth-round pick in the 2011 Draft out of Wichita State -- has fashioned a 3.66 ERA. Plus, his 106 strikeouts are tops among active Sally starters. Nationals prospect Alex Meyer fanned 107 but was promoted to the Carolina League this week. Perhaps most impressively, opponents are batting .199 against Lowell.
"I have been working a lot on early contact, but I'll take swings and misses," he said. "The last couple weeks, I've been better at putting guys away."
Tourists starter Vianney Mayo (3-4) was charged with all three runs on nine hits, including first baseman Matt Smith's solo shot in the fourth. Mayo also went seven innings.