Chris Heston will be the first to admit his first two years of pro ball were a struggle.
Ironically, it wasn't until he began pitching in the hitter-friendly California League that his fortunes began to change. After succeeding where many other young hurlers have failed, Heston feels he can do well wherever he plays.
The Giants' No. 18 prospect took a no-hitter into the eighth Sunday afternoon before the Double-A Richmond Flying Squirrels edged the Bowie Baysox, 1-0, in 10 innings.
Zelous Wheeler broke up Heston's bid with a two-out single to left field in the eighth, but Brett Bochy worked the final 1 2/3 frames to finish off the one-hitter. Richmond came away with the win when Juan Perez drilled a walk-off single off the base of the right-field wall.
"I thought it went well. I thought it went real well," said Heston, an Eastern League midseason All-Star. "This was a big win for the team because we're battling them for a playoff spot. To steal one from them will help us down the stretch."
The 24-year-old right-hander matched a career high with 11 strikeouts and walked three over 7 2/3 innings in lowering his league-leading ERA to 2.20. But he did not factor in the decision after exiting a scoreless tie.
"It's got to be up there," Heston said. "I've really not had the opportunity to do something like this in my career. I haven't had anything like this as a professional, so to take this as deep as I did was an honor."
The East Carolina University product issued leadoff walks in the first, fourth and sixth innings, but only two Baysox ever left first base and neither made it to third.
After retiring eight batters in a row and 14 of 15, Heston made his lone mistake on his 99th and final pitch of the night when Wheeler pulled a 3-1 offering down the third-base line.
"I fell behind in the count and I had to give him something to hit," explained Heston, who threw 70 pitches for strikes. "It was middle-down and he hit it hard. You have to give him ups.
"I decided to come to him on 3-1 because it was a tied game and I didn't want to walk him. I knew what was going on out there, but it didn't start to weigh on me until the later innings. I was just trying not to think about it."
Selected in the 12th round of the 2009 Draft, Heston went 6-18 in his first two pro seasons. Last year at San Jose, he was 12-4 with a Cal League-leading 3.16 ERA, establishing career highs with 131 strikeouts and 151 innings pitched.
"I think it was a mix of things," said Heston, whose four-pitch mix includes a sinker, slider, changeup and curveball. "I started throwing the sinker more after that year in [Class A] Augusta and I started learning the game more and getting more seasoning under my belt.
"I had always thrown a fastball, but I realized my four-seamer had a sink to it. My pitching coach at the time, Steve Kline, said to think about maybe throwing a two-seamer. And ever since then, I've ran with it."
This year, he's 8-5, ranks fourth in the Eastern League with 114 strikeouts and has a .234 opponents' batting average that is a personal best in a full-season league.
"Going into [the California League], all I heard was that it was hitter-friendly. There are parks where you can give up a good amount of runs very quickly," Heston said.
"I learned not to let them elevate stuff and I took that mentality into this league. I came into this season with high expectations. So far, it's working out."
Bowie's Jacob Pettit kept pace with Heston for six innings, limiting the Flying Squirrels to six hits and striking out seven without walking a batter.