Jesse Hernandez didn't get the no-hitter that he came so close to on Friday night. But he couldn't find reason to complain after the best outing of his career.
The Blue Jays prospect came within one strike of a no-hitter, yielding an unearned run while recording a career-high 12 strikeouts over 8 2/3 innings as Class A Advanced Dunedin defeated the St. Lucie Mets, 4-1.
"I'm pretty happy with it," Hernandez said. "I was making pitches when I needed to, throwing cutters to both sides of the plate. I just happened to make my pitches until that last one."
Hernandez allowed only two baserunners heading into the ninth -- he hit Richard Lucas leading off the sixth and followed by walking Travis Taijeron. He struck out Taijeron leading off the ninth and retired T. J. Rivera on a fly ball to right field, then ran the count to 2-2 against Alonzo Harris, who lined a single to left.
"I was just trying to stay on the same page with my catcher, Jack Murphy," Hernandez said. "We were on the same page all night. It's so easy to let your mind go somewhere else and think ahead of time when you've got to think about what's going on right there. I did it, but they happened to get to that last pitch.
"Everything kind of went fast. I got him to a 2-2 count, and he fouled a couple pitches off. He actually called time on a pitch and tried to mix up my timing a bit. It was a 2-2 cutter -- I tried to throw it as hard as I could, but he got to it and singled to left."
After the hit, the 23-year-old right-hander was replaced by Evan Englebrook. Harris stole second and scored on the reliever's throwing error before Englebrook struck out Cory Vaughn.
Despite the hit and the run, Hernandez said he wasn't too disappointed.
"A little bit," he said. "Overall, I'm happy with the game. I threw very well and picked up a win for the team. I gave us what we needed."
Coincidentally, there happened to be someone special at Florida Auto Exchange Stadium for the best start of Hernandez's career. St. Lucie pitching coach Phil Regan served as Hernandez's pitching instructor for five years before Hernandez went off to Central Michigan University.
Hernandez (1-1) credited Regan with teaching him how to be a real pitcher, rather than just "a kid with a good arm."
"It was great," the Grand Rapids native said. "I got to chat with him a little bit yesterday. I was happy to see him -- it's been a couple years since I've seen him after going to college and this being my third year of pro ball. It was definitely a special night. ... He essentially taught me how to pitch."
Hernandez, who signed with the Blue Jays as a non-drafted free agent in 2010, put together a 2.29 ERA over 78 2/3 innings for Class A Lansing this year. He came into Friday's contest with an 8.55 ERA in seven appearances for Dunedin but lowered that mark to 5.97.
"The cutter and the slider combination was working because they would see the cutter and I'd come back with a slider, which kind of has that same movement with more depth," Hernandez said. "It got them out in front a little bit more. I had them sitting cutter and then threw a slider for a ball that they were swinging at for strikes."
So what does Hernandez do for an encore?
"Enjoy it for the night," he said. "Then tomorrow it's a whole new game, a brand new day. I've got to get after it like I would if I got shelled for seven [runs]. I can't expect it to happen every time. If I'm lucky, maybe I'll get that last out."