Lowell flirts with no-no, strikes out 14

Southpaw's bid for history broken up in seventh by solo homer

By Sam Dykstra / Special to MLB.com | July 16, 2012 10:39 PM ET

If there's such a thing as pressure in a baseball, it might be staring at a line of zeros on the scoreboard, knowing that you have to do your best with each pitch to maintain it. That's what Charlie Lowell had before him Monday night.

From his spot in the third-base dugout, the Class A Greensboro starter had a perfect view of the NewBridge Bank Park scoreboard in right-center field. Runs, hits, errors, all goose eggs on the Kannapolis side through the first five innings.

A perfect game. Talk about pressure. Lowell would not.

"I don't think it's pressure. I think of it as an opportunity," said the 21-year-old left-hander. "Pressure only tears people down. Opportunities build people up."

When Joe De Pinto reached on a fielding error by shortstop Austin Nola to lead off the sixth, Lowell had a new opportunity -- maintain the no-hitter. He did just that, striking out Andrew Douglas and forcing D.J. Jarrad into an inning-ending double play.

That opportunity for history unraveled in the seventh, however. After Lowell struck out Keenyn Walker and Joey DeMichele to kick off the seventh, he hung a 1-2 slider a little too high, and Chris Curley lifted the pitch for a solo home run.

But with Lowell's punchout of Kevan Smith to close the frame, the southpaw finished his night with a career-high 14 strikeouts along with the one hit and one run over seven innings in the Grasshoppers' 8-3 win over Kannapolis.

The 14 strikeouts bested the Marlins prospect's highest total in a single contest by six. (He tallied eight on May 7 and June 8 this season for Greensboro.) He reached that previous high by the fourth and maintained his two K's per inning rate over the last three frames.

A big part of that had to do with a little advanced scouting.

"This is a team that likes to get after it early," Lowell said. "So I really wanted to let myself dictate the pace in every at-bat. ... It's something we talked a little bit about earlier. But just being in the two stands for the first two games [of the series], I noticed that they really liked to go after the fastball early. I still threw some fastballs early in counts, but for the most part, I was trying to keep them from getting anything too easy to hit."

That being said, the fastball was a big pitch for the Wichita State product, who also sports a changeup and a slider. The left-hander had walked three or more in eight of his previous 10 starts entering Monday, but with improved fastball command, he did not issue a single free pass in his latest gem for the first time all season.

"The best pitch in baseball is a spotted fastball," Lowell said. "It's something I've been focusing on all year. I haven't had bad control issues, but they've been there. The big pitch for me is that extension fastball. So tonight, I was just staying back on it, doing all the things we've been working on. These last two starts, it's bowed in to good success."

Monday easily represented the best start of Lowell's first full season in pro ball after being selected in the sixth round of the 2011 Draft. He improved to 4-4 with 97 strikeouts in 84 innings and dropped his ERA to 3.96, the first time that number has been below 4.00 since late May. Now the trick will be replicating his career night -- or at least coming close to it -- in future outings.

If nothing else, Lowell knows how he'll control his mindset.

"The thing is, what do I think about when I'm on a roll? Nothing," he said. "When things are going right, I'm thinking about what's gone wrong and how I can improve it. But when everything's working and everything's falling into place, it's like putting on your shoes in the morning. It just comes easy.

"I don't want to change anything. ... I don't want to get content because that's when stuff goes the complete other way."

Sam Dykstra is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.

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