D.J. Mitchell was in a ground-ball groove Saturday night as he flirted with the Trenton Thunder's first no-hitter in nearly three years.
The 23-year-old right-hander did not yield a hit until the seventh inning, coaxing 13 groundouts, as the Thunder blanked the Binghamton Mets, 6-0.
"It was definitely my best start this year," Mitchell said after improving to 5-3. "After I faced the first hitter in the seventh, I really started paying attention to [the no-hitter]."
Mitchell retired the first 12 batters before walking Lucas Duda and Eric Campbell in the fifth. After giving Campbell another free pass in the seventh, he lost the no-hit bid on a single by Mike Nickeas.
"I had two strikes on the guy and I threw a pitch right over the center of the plate," Mitchell said. "It wasn't my best pitch of the night."
With the Jose Coronado representing the tying run in a 3-0 game, Mitchell induced his 13th groundout of the night to end the frame.
"I was getting ahead of hitters early," the North Carolina native said. "I was mixing my pitches really well. I tried to stay ahead and the guys made great plays behind me.
"I mainly throw sinkers, so I was able to keep the ball low. It just led to more ground balls tonight."
Mitchell, the Yankees' 10th-round pick in the 2008 Draft, said the team has encouraged him to pitch to contact and rely on his defense rather than trying to strike everyone out. Against the Mets, the Thunder backed him up by playing errorless ball.
"They were a big key tonight," he said. "They made a lot of big plays behind me and I give them a lot of credit."
After going winless in his previous four starts, Mitchell lowered his ERA to 4.41. He's holding opponents to a .265 average.
Mitchell appeared in Sports Illustrated's "Faces in the Crowd" feature in September 2007 after leading the Cape Cod League in strikeouts. After returning to Clemson in 2008, he posted ERAs of 1.95 and 2.87, respectively, at Class A Charleston and Class A Advanced Tampa in his first pro season.
And while he's had some struggles this year, Mitchell knows the secret to his success.
"I have left the ball up in a few starts and they made me pay for it," he said. "Tonight, for the most part, I kept the ball down."
Grant Duff allowed one hit over the final two innings to seal Trenton's sixth straight win.
Brandon Laird hit a three-run homer and Marcos Vechionacci added a two-run shot for the Thunder.