Coming off a sub-par outing and working with a new catcher, Brad Hand didn't appear to have the odds stacked in his favor on Tuesday night. Somebody forgot to tell him that.
The Marlins farmhand took a no-hitter into the eighth inning before allowing a solo homer to Tim Federowicz on his final pitch as the Triple-A New Orleans Zephyrs defeated the Albuquerque Isotopes, 4-1.
After surrendering five runs on seven hits over six innings in his last start, Hand tied a season high with 10 strikeouts while walking two. He's fanned 60 over 63 innings this season after striking out 113 in 173 2/3 frames last year.
"The curveball just has been working well and I'm mixing up the pitches more," Hand said. "The changeup really came along last year and this year, it's been another pitch to add.
"The curveball last year, my arm slot dropped a little bit. So this year we really worked on staying on top of the baseball, and that really helped it. Everything's starting to feel comfortable."
The 22-year-old opened the game by walking Trent Oeltjen, who stole second base, but Aaron Miles lined into a double play. The Isotopes did not have to wait long for their next baserunner as Federowicz walked with two outs in the second.
After that, however, the game belonged to Hand. The Minnesota native retired the next 17 batters, eight on strikeouts. The no-hitter ended with one out in the eighth when Federowicz homered to center field.
"I started off 2-0 on him, then got back to 2-1," Hand said. "I was just trying to go fastball away, but it was more fastball middle. He put a good swing on it and hit it it out."
Although Hand was disappointed to lose the no-hit bid, he kept his effort in perspective.
"It's disappointing, but I still look at it as a quality start," Hand said. "The team won. It's always disappointing to lose the no-hitter, but we won the game, and that's what matters."
Hand, who pitched past the sixth for the first time this season, exited immediately after the longball. He threw 76 of 115 pitches for strikes, generating seven outs on the ground and three in the air.
"Our new catcher, Steve Holm, just got in today," Hand said. "It was my first time throwing to him and he called a great game back there. I was getting ahead of hitters with the curveball, putting hitters away with it. I felt like I could throw it for strikes at any time today."
After getting some Major League experience last year -- he went 1-8 with a 4.20 ERA in 12 starts for the Marlins -- Hand (4-3) has a 3.43 ERA with the Zephyrs. The 2008 second-round Draft pick believes his time in the big leagues helped him progress, although there is experience to be gained at Triple-A as well.
"You just get more knowledge about the game," Hand said. "There are guys you can talk to and learn some stuff. Even the guys here in Triple-A, you can talk pitching with them and you'll learn something. That's helped me a lot this year.
"One of the big things I've been working on is throwing more strikes. Last year, it was the walks that hurt me. That's one of the biggest things, getting ahead, throwing strikes and cutting down on walks."
Pitching at Triple-A for the first time, Hand is focused on doing the best he can to help the Zephyrs win. But he admits he'll do what it takes to get back to the Majors.
"If they need me up there, I'm willing to do whatever they need me to do," he said, "but I've just got to concentrate on working hard and concentrate on what I can control. If they need anybody, I'll do whatever they ask me. I've just got to worry about pitching well and working hard."