Gregory Infante had mixed results during his first taste of South Atlantic League action in 2008. He didn't appear the least bit fazed by Class A hitters this time around.
The Venezuelan right-hander gave the Opening Night crowd at Fieldcrest Cannon Stadium a performance to remember Thursday, striking out a career-high 11 over six no-hit frames as the Kannapolis Intimidators pulled out a 1-0, 11-inning victory over the Hickory Crawdads.
Infante, who was signed by the White Sox as a non-drafted free agent in 2006, went 1-2 with a 6.59 ERA in four appearances, including three starts, for the Intimidators last year. He was sent to Rookie-level Bristol of the Appalachian League, where he flourished for the remainder of the season, going 4-3 with a career-best 2.66 ERA in 13 outings.
Infante carried that momentum into Spring Training and hopes to enjoy a much more successful second stint in Kannapolis.
"I feel more comfortable with my delivery and direction, which allows me to command the ball a lot better than last year," said Infante, who walked 12 and struck out 11 over 13 2/3 innings with the Intimidators last season.
"This particular outing, Opening Day, you just want to get through it healthy and pitch well."
The 6-foot-2, 185-pound hurler's second shot at Class A began with a brilliant effort that saw him face the minimum 18 batters, despite a pair of walks.
Infante set the stage for his big night by striking out the side in the opening frame, kicking off a stretch of 13 batters he retired in order.
"We'd seen it before. His last outing in Spring Training was a lot like he pitched tonight," said Kannapolis pitching coach Larry Owens.
"I think he's just more comfortable being in the United States. He's more comfortable with his surroundings. He's a lot more comfortable with the lifestyle. It makes [pitching] a lot easier."
Though Infante walked Joseph Massey with one out in the fifth, catcher John Curtis picked him up by gunning Massey down as he tried to swipe second base. Infante struck out David Christensen to end the frame, but issued a leadoff walk to Ryan Peisel in the sixth.
After fanning Beau Seabury, Infante got Carlos Martinez to ground into an inning-ending double play, capping by far the best performance of his four-year professional career.
The 21-year-old didn't mind being lifted at that point. And even if he had, the Intimidators weren't about to let him go further than they had intended when the night began.
"He was done," Owens said. "We based it on where he was coming out of Spring Training. He's not going to be pitching in Chicago his next start. We, as an organization, know what he's capable of."
Unfortunately for Infante, Asheville starter Robinson Fabian was just as stingy, if not as dazzling, as he yielded five hits and a walk with four strikeouts while tossing six scoreless frames.
Thanks to a combined four innings of two-hit relief by Nathan Jones, Charlis Burdie and Dan Remenowsky (1-0), Kannapolis was able to walk off with the win after Tyler Kuhn's two-out RBI single in the bottom of the 10th off Tyler Trice (0-1).
Massey ended the Intimidators' no-hit bid when he led off the eighth with a single to left field off Burdie.
"[Infante] remaining healthy is a lot more important than a no-hitter right now," Owens said.