Pelicans' Rucker takes no-no into seventh

Cubs prospect strikes out seven, turns in longest outing as a pro

Michael Rucker has recorded 88 strikeouts over 72 1/3 innings since the Cubs drafted him last year. (Larry Kave/Myrtle Beach Pelicans)

By Josh Jackson / | July 12, 2017 10:55 PM ET

Michael Rucker cruised early on Wednesday, but it wasn't until the middle innings that it hit him he was having a career night.

"I've only gone six [innings] professionally once, [and I've] gone five several times," the 23-year-old right-hander said. "Getting to that point, seeing guys a couple times, I wanted to make sure I keep my focus."

He did, carrying a no-hitter into the seventh and winding up with seven one-hit innings in Class A Advanced Myrtle Beach's 2-0 blanking of Winston-Salem at Field.

Gameday box score

"[The night was] definitely all that I can ask for," he said. "I threw the pitches I have for strikes, and I had a good feel for them." 

An 11th-round pick in last year's Draft, Rucker began the year in the Class A South Bend bullpen and continued in a relief role with the Pelicans from May 16 into June. In five appearances out of the 'pen and seven Carolina League starts, he's 2-2 with a 2.49 ERA. 

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"Obviously [in the Minors], you move around a lot, bounce back and fourth and whatnot, but no matter where you are, you try to make it simple. I'm always just trying to execute pitches and take it one step at a time," the Brigham Young product said. "There is a difference between [working out of the] bullpen and starting -- you have to be locked in, focused a little bit longer and make a more detailed game plan."

Video: The Pelicans' Rucker finishes a dazzliing outing

In his previous two starts, he surrendered 11 runs -- eight earned -- over nine innings. He said the extra day off for the big league All-Star break helped, but a mental adjustment made the biggest difference.

"The last couple starts, I started to think outside the box and make things too difficult," he said. "[Pitching] coach Anderson Tavares reiterated simplification -- focus on executing pitches."

Rucker struck out the side in the first and shrugged off a hit batter with one out in the third. Not long after that, he couldn't help be aware that he hadn't allowed so much as a single.

"I would look at the scoreboard pretty much every out or so, keeping track of outs, to look at the guy up coming up next," he said, "but it didn't sink in until the second time [through the order]." 

No. 16 White Sox prospect Jameson Fisher opened the fifth with a seven-pitch walk. Rucker responded by fanning Toby Thomas on three pitches and getting Brandon Dulin to bounce into a double play on a 1-1 offering.

"It was super hot, humid, and at that point when the game gets a little longer you start to feel a little bit drained, but it's more of a mental effort to keep locked in," the Missouri native said. "I felt like I lost a little focus on the first guy, so I locked back in, took a deep breath, got the strikeout and tried to get the double play to keep my pitch count down." 

After a 1-2-3 sixth, he got the first out in the seventh before running into Zack Collins,'s No. 68 overall prospect, who had homered in two straight sandwiched around his appearance in Sunday's Futures Game. Rucker punched him out in the first and retired him on a bunt attempt in the fourth, but this time, the seventh-ranked White Sox prospect laced a 1-0 pitch into right field for a double.

Video: Dash's Collins spoils no-hit bid

"He really likes to pull the ball. Anything elevated or inside, he's looking to pull the ball and he's really aggressive but also patient enough to wait for his pitch," Rucker said. "I tried to throw a changeup low and away, and it was down but over the plate a little bit. He's got such long levers, he could just drop the bat head and he tugged it down the line and got himself a double. I took a breath and was able to rebound and get the next two to preserve the shutout."

Dakota Mekkes allowed one hit and two walks while fanning five over the final two innings to pick up his first Carolina League save.

Ninth-ranked Cubs prospect Eddy Martinez contributed an RBI single in the Pelicans' two-run first.

Alec Hansen, ranked 10th in the White Sox system, gave up two runs on two hits and three walks while striking out seven over five innings. He fell to 0-2 since coming up from Class A Kannapolis at the beginning of the month.

Josh Jackson is a contributor to Follow and interact with him on Twitter, @JoshJacksonMiLB. This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.

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