Frank Duncan will be the first to admit his season has not gone as planned. But Friday's start reminded him of what he can accomplish when things click on the mound.
The D-backs right-hander took a no-hitter into the ninth, eventually yielding two hits and a run over 8 1/3 frames, as Double-A Jackson topped Biloxi, 2-1, at The Ballpark at Jackson. He struck out five and walked two in the longest outing of his Minor League career.
"It's been a really, really, really, really tough year for me," Duncan said. "So to get this start under my belt, I would have taken just a win and seven innings. But to be able to take a no-hitter into the ninth inning, it's not something many people get a chance to do. It felt really good."
Video: Duncan strikes out the side in the 8th
The 25-year-old began the season with Triple-A Reno, but after allowing one run over six innings in his first start, issues arose in his subsequent outings. Duncan compiled a 6.94 ERA and 1.78 WHIP through 22 appearances, including 21 starts, in the hitter-friendly-Pacific Coast League and came to the Southern League on Saturday.
"The biggest thing for a pitcher like me is consistency," Duncan said. "To be consistent in my delivery allows me to be consistent to spots and making my pitches to the plate. It's something that I haven't really been able to do. Pitching in Reno is tough, but it was more than just tough. It was me not making pitches combined with a tough environment to pitch in. Any pitcher who goes out there and is not able to make pitches is going to struggle. So it's just been about going back to what I do best and executing pitches, that's the name of the game for me."
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Duncan got back to delivering quality pitches, throwing 58 of 89 for strikes while recording 12 ground-ball outs. He also retired 14 of the 27 batters he faced on three pitches or fewer.
"Just my sinker and being able to keep the ball on the ground and the combination with our defensive coaches doing a really good job of having our guys in the right spots, whether they were shifting or not shifting," Duncan said. "That was huge because early in the game there were balls that were hit right back up the middle and we had a guy right there waiting for it. That was huge early in the game."
The University of Kansas product retired the first 10 batters before Troy Stokes Jr. drew a four-pitch walk with one out in the fourth inning. Duncan fell behind, 2-0, on Clint Coulter, but the right fielder bounced into an inning-ending double play.
Dustin DeMuth drew a leadoff walk an inning later, but Duncan again induced another double play, this time from No. 18 Brewers prospect Jake Gatewood. Blake Allemand was retired on a bouncer in front of the plate to end the frame.
"It came down to mixing my pitches," Duncan said. "My sinker, throwing my four-seam a little more often and also my changeup because it was a pretty lefty-dominant lineup. It was tough because my slider, which is usually my second-best pitch, wasn't really having it for the first five or six innings and then finally getting it toward the end of the game."
Finally getting his slider to have more bite, Duncan set down the next nine batters, striking out the side in the eighth. Even though he was aware history was on the line, the 6-foot-4, 215-pound hurler entered the ninth with 84 pitches under his belt and felt as strong as he had at the beginning of the night.
"It's something you acknowledge. I know I walked a couple of guys early in the game," he said. "There were some double plays behind me that the defense turned, so I was able to face the minimum into the ninth. I mean, that's huge. I could tell the guys were all quieter toward me."
Video: Ortega breaks up Jackson's no-hit bid
Staked to a 2-0 lead, Duncan came out in the ninth and got ahead, 0-2, against leadoff man Angel Ortega. Despite facing a "well-executed" slider, Ortega legged out a broken-bat infield single to end the no-hit bid. Dustin Houle followed with a double to right before Tyrone Taylor delivered a sacrifice fly that spelled the end of the night for Duncan.
"It's frustrating and then the next guy doubles and you're over it," he said. "It is what it is. It's baseball. I was rewarded with some hard line-drive outs at the beginning of the game. There's eventually going to be a good pitch that you throw that's going to fall in. That's just the game."
Joey Krehbiel set down the last two Shuckers to earn his second save of the season and end Jackson's seven-game losing skid.
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"The thing I'm probably most proud of about this start is just how hard this team works, just being here for the short time that I have been," Duncan said. "They work their tails off every single day, they're at the field early, they're doing early work, they're hitting on the field every day. Just to get out of the funk that they've been in, and myself included, that's what makes it a little bit sweeter."
Michael Perez and Kevin Cron delivered run-scoring doubles to provide the only offense Duncan and the Generals needed.
No. 11 Brewers prospect Freddy Peralta (1-4) allowed one run on three hits and three walks while fanning seven over 5 1/3 innings.