Deolis Guerra knows the expectations surrounding him are high and he showed why on Friday night.
Guerra took a no-hitter into the eighth and ended up striking out six over 7 1/3 innings as the Fort Myers Miracle held on for a 2-1 victory over the Charlotte Stone Crabs.
"I definitely felt stronger today, I feel like all my pitches were working," he said.
Guerra, one of the young arms Minnesota acquired from the New York Mets for Johan Santana in 2008, is in his third season in the Class A Advanced Florida State League. He knows he needs more performances like Friday's if he expects to reach Double-A this summer.
"Of course, everybody needs to do good to move up," the 20-year-old right-hander said. "I'm not having a great year, but I feel like the last couple outings have been getting better. I started slow, but I'm improving a little bit. I might get the chance this year [at Double-A], but I can't control that."
His effort Friday reminded everyone, including himself, of his potential ceiling. The Venezuelan cruised through seven innings -- an error by third baseman Nicholas Romero in the fifth kept it from being a perfect game.
"I felt like I did good," Guerra said. "I was trying to do what I know how to do and let me defense work."
Things unraveled in the eighth when Guerra threw away Ryan Royster's leadoff comebacker. He allowed a one-out double down the left-field line to Christian Lopez to lose the no-hitter and walked Emeel Salem before being pulled.
"I knew I was throwing a no-hitter, but I was trying to think of just pitching my game and letting my teammates help me out," he said.
Santos Arias stranded two runners in the eighth and recorded the final five outs for his third save.
"After the hit, I was thinking about finishing the game and that was it," said Guerra, rejecting the notion he was tired after facing 26 batters. "I felt very good. The last inning, I made an error and after that I just couldn't do it. I was feeling really good though."
Guerra induced seven grounders and nine fly balls en route to his sixth win in 15 starts. It was his best performance since tossing six shutout innings to beat Tampa on May 29. He also held the Stone Crabs to one run over seven frames on May 23.
"I remember [that game,]" Guerra said of his last start against the Rays' affiliate. "This one was a little different because it's not all the time that I have all my pitches working together. I've been trying to work on my curveball, and today it worked pretty good."
Guerra, a Futures Game All-Star in 2007, was traded with outfielder Carlos Gomez and fellow right-handers Philip Humber and Kevin Mulvey for Santana in January 2008. He was 11-9 with a 5.47 ERA in 26 appearances for the Miracle last season after spending 2007 with the Mets' FSL affiliate in St. Lucie.
"I have more confidence now after this game, I feel really confident," he said. "If I can [continue to] get this delivery like today, I'll be finishing strong."
Chris Cates's RBI single in the third gave Guerra the lead and Mark Dolenc padded it in the fifth with a two-out homer, his second of the season.
The Twins would love to see a move to New Britain, and Guerra said much of that depends on his ability to harness his off-speed pitches.
"My changeup and my curveball were working good, I feel like I had all my stuff today," he said. "But I'm still working on it. I've got to be working on it to stay consistent.
"I'll do what I do and let my team decide where they want me."