Sarasota's Ben Jukich didn't mind being lifted against Clearwater with only six outs standing between him and a playoff no-hitter.
Jukich fired seven no-hit innings and two relievers combined on a two-hitter as the visiting Reds blanked the Threshers, 2-0, in Game 1 of their Florida State League best-of-3 first-round playoff series Tuesday.
"You always want to try to finish a no-hitter, but I have another start in five days, and my pitch count was at 98," he said. "I knew the bullpen would be able to finish the job. The most important thing is the win."
Jukich, a 13th round pick of the Oakland A's in the 2006 Draft, was acquired in a trade by Cincinnati on June 14. He went 8-2 with a 3.55 ERA in 14 starts with two complete games. He tossed a seven-inning, two-hit shutout against St. Lucie on Aug. 12.
The 24-year-old left-hander said he didn't have his best stuff early on, but managed to channel his energy and focus on the task at hand.
"I had nothing the first inning or so," Jukich said. "I kind of got lucky. I had trouble hitting my spots. I was probably a little too fired up."
Jukich (1-0) yielded a one-out walk in the second inning and a two-out walk in the third while striking out five. He retired the final 13 batters he faced before being lifted after the seventh.
"I noticed the no-hitter after the first few innings just from looking at the scoreboard, but then you kind of forget about it. A few innings later you realize what's going on," he said.
The bullpen wasn't able to keep the no-hit bid intact. Sean Watson retired the first two batters in the eighth before Matt Thayer lined a single to center.
Derrik Lutz, who notched 23 saves during the regular season, allowed a two-out double in the bottom of the ninth and walked the next two batters to load the bases before getting Jake Blalock to fly out to deep center field.
"BJ (Szymanski) ran a long way for that last out," Jukich said. "For a second, I thought it was a grand slam and we had lost the game.
"You can't expect [a no-hitter] to happen and we still had the shutout going," he added. "Watson and Lutz did their jobs, you kind of have to let it go.
Cody Strait belted a leadoff homer in the fourth to get the Reds on the board, and Chris Valaika singled and scored on Eric Eymann's sacrifice fly in the sixth. Tonys Gutierrez went 2-for-4 for Sarasota.
"This is a big confidence boost for us, but we can't call this series over," Jukich said.
Threshers starter Andrew Cruse (0-1) allowed two runs on five hits and a walk while striking out four over six innings. Ronald Hill allowed one hit and fanned three in three shutout frames of relief.
Game 2 will be at 7 p.m. ET on Wednesday in Sarasota.