Cougars trio combines on no-hitter
For Bryan Valdez's first outing of the season, Mike Parrott hoped for three innings or 45 pitches. Sometimes, less is more. The Class A Kane County pitching coach got fewer pitches out of his starter but happily took four perfect innings instead, as Valdez, Andy Toelken and Blake Workman combined to toss the 10th no-hitter
The Class A Kane County pitching coach got fewer pitches out of his starter but happily took four perfect innings instead, as Valdez,
"It was just one of those things we'll never forget," Toelken said.
Valdez began the season on the injured list -- not with an actual ailment, Parrott said, but simply to wait for a roster spot to open. After a suspension for the performance-enhancing drug Stanozolol cost him the 2017 season, he appeared in 16 games -- including five starts -- across five levels last year. In his 2019 debut, the left-hander fanned four and induced six ground-ball outs, throwing 29 of 35 pitches for strikes.
Parrott didn't know what to expect from the native of the Dominican Republic, except that Valdez came with a reputation as an efficient strike-thrower. He lived up to that billing, getting the first offering over the plate against all 12 batters he faced.
"He just did a phenomenal job," the pitching coach said. "For a guy who hasn't faced game competition since Spring Training -- it's been probably 4 1/2 weeks -- that's phenomenal command. Bryan set the tone tonight for the rest of the pitching."
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Toelken (2-0) carried the quest for perfection into the seventh. With one out, the right-hander issued a four-pitch walk to
The 2018 19th-round Draft pick said Valdez's start gave him extra motivation.
"It's huge," he said. "For him to go out and do what he did was pretty remarkable."
Toelken issued another walk in the eighth but got
"I mean, it hurts not to finish it," the Green Cove Springs, Florida, native admitted. "But to get it done all in all, it's all you can ask for."
It was the third no-hitter in the Minor Leagues this season and the Cougars' first since Sept. 1, 2017, when
Toelken has established himself as a weapon out of the bullpen this season with a 0.00 ERA over 13 2/3 innings. The University of Missouri product has gone at least 3 2/3 frames in three of his four appearances after serving in a similar relief role with Rookie Advanced Missoula (four starts, eight games) and Class A Short Season Hillsboro (three games) in 2018.
"We stretched him out a little bit in Spring Training, because we weren't sure if he was even going to be a starter this year, but we wanted to have a guy who could give us length in the bullpen." said Parrott, who worked with Toelken in Missoula last year. "I never expected him to be a guy who could go that many innings and that many pitches and still say sharp. He's just been phenomenal since the season started."
The 23-year-old first transitioned to long relief during his final season at Mizzou.
"I actually enjoy that role," Toelken said. "Last year in college, I started out as a starter and halfway through ended up in that long-relief role. I just like throwing in those tight games more and throwing meaningful innings."
Of the three Kane County hurlers to participate in the feat, Workman may have been under the most pressure.
"You got to 26 outs and then it comes down to, 'I'm the last guy.' You start thinking, 'I don't want to be the guy to blow it,'" Parrott said. "And also, at the same time, you're trying to win a 1-0 ballgame, so it's not like you can just say, 'I've got a big cushion.' You're still trying to win a game in addition to preserving a no-hitter. He rose to the occasion. He rose to the pressure of the moment. He stayed aggressive -- just like the other two guys."
The game was played in Peoria due to flooding outside Quad Cities' Modern Woodmen Ballpark that has prevented the River Bandits from playing a home game this season.
Chris Bumbaca is a contributor to MiLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @BOOMbaca.