Stewart nearly Hammers down no-hitter

Marlins No. 21 prospect loses bid with two outs in ninth inning

Will Stewart has allowed one earned run or fewer in six of his 16 starts this season. (Joshua Tjiong/MiLB.com)

By Joe Bloss / MiLB.com | July 20, 2019 10:26 PM

Twice at Roger Dean Chevrolet Stadium on Saturday night, Will Stewart got mad. The second time came after his 108th and final pitch, the only one that landed for a hit. He had recorded 26 outs by that point, three of which were Bryce Denton's doing -- a strikeout and a double play. Anything along those lines again would have given Stewart the first complete-game no-hitter in team history.

After previously starting Denton off-speed, Stewart wanted to bring the heat. Except this fastball was the only one all night that cut back over the plate. Denton sent it to the left-field wall for a double.

"The snap feeling is you're [ticked] that you threw the wrong pitch," Stewart said. "You're very upset because you know how to throw the guy; you've thrown to him all night. You make one mishap and you've ruined something great. But at the same time, after that, I wasn't worried about anything. I was just extremely ecstatic that I had a good outing."

With the no-no no more, the Marlins' No. 21 prospect settled for a rousing ovation after 8 2/3 dominant innings for Class A Advanced Jupiter. He struck out eight, walked one and after exiting was charged with the only run scored by Palm Beach in the Hammerheads' 3-1 win.

Tweet from @JoeFrisaro: Reaction to Will Stewart being taken out after no-hit bid broken up with two-out in 9th @GoHammerheads #Marlins @MLBPipeline pic.twitter.com/WcHbZZBHVp

The outing was Stewart's best since he chased the same milestone in April. He matched his season high for strikeouts, which he first reached his last time out -- also against Palm Beach -- and pitched into the ninth inning for the first time all year. He felt his changeup and slider played as "power pitches." He often worked inside, only to finish off hitters with a sinker away. The repeatability he's struggled to find in his mechanics was there, with the front side of his delivery staying solid instead of flailing wildly.

"Everything was on point. Everything was doing exactly what I wanted to," the left-hander said. "I had a great catcher [Nick Fortes] behind the plate, calling an amazing game. It was just one of those nights where all the stars aligned and everything happened exactly the way it was supposed to happen until the very last pitch of my outing."

Well, not everything. Stewart (4-8) retired the first 16 batters he faced, then issued a one-out walk in the sixth to Imeldo Diaz

Avoiding free passes has been his main focus this season because it's what helped him break out last year. Stewart, then with the Phillies, ranked second in the South Atlantic League with a 2.06 ERA, 0.98 WHIP and 4.7 percent walk rate. Those numbers took him from a 20th-round pick in 2015 to the final piece of the trade that sent All-Star catcher J.T. Realmuto from Miami to Philadelphia. The Marlins, according to multiple reports, valued Stewart as the best arm in the Phillies system behind top prospect Sixto Sanchez.


Gameday box score


So Stewart wants to finish every start without walking a batter. On Saturday, he was well aware of the no-hitter. But that, he said, wasn't his concern. He just didn't want to throw four balls to any batter. When he did, it was more upsetting than the double that ended what would have been a historic achievement.

"You can't control what happens to the ball after you let go of it," Stewart said. "But you can control where you put the ball."

With Diaz aboard, the 22-year-old ended the frame by getting Denton to ground into a double play. A 1-2-3 seventh ended with an eight-pitch strikeout of top Cardinals prospect Nolan Gorman, and two more punchouts in the eighth brought Stewart to the final frame with the no-hitter intact and 98 pitches thrown.

Nick Plummer whiffed on a payoff pitch for the first out in the ninth. Diaz took two balls before grounding out to third. Then Denton played spoiler. Hammerheads manager Todd Pratt came out to take the ball and the infield converged to give Stewart congratulatory embraces. Those off the field offered similar sentiments with raucous cheers.

2019 MiLB include

"I could feel all the energy in the crowd," Stewart said. "It kind of felt like they were down there with me."

C.J. Carter came on to close out the game. The right-hander did, recording his first save, but not before Dennis Ortega singled up the middle to score Denton with the Cardinals' only run.

The highlights on the mound overshadowed J.J. Bleday's professional debut. The Marlins' first-round pick in last month's Draft went 1-for-4 with a single.

Marlins No. 3 prospect Victor Victor Mesa knocked in a run on a 2-for-4 night and 19th-ranked prospect Jerar Encarnacion plated two.

Joe Bloss is a contributor to MiLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @jtbloss. This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.

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