Chad Thompson was making his full-season debut and Mark Williams worked out of the bullpen for only the second time after four starts. So Friday figured to feature a few firsts for the Wisconsin Timber Rattlers.
They got at least one they probably weren't expecting.
The two right-handers combined to throw the Timber Rattlers' first no-hitter in nearly two years as Class A Wisconsin blanked the Clinton LumberKings, 5-0.
Thompson (1-0) struck out six and walked three over his first five innings of Class A ball. Williams issued just one free pass and fanned three over the final four frames for his first professional save.
"It was my first outing, so all I was worried about was doing what I'm supposed to do -- just throw strikes, try to get ground balls," Thompson said. "Fortunately, it all ended up working out really well."
The Brewers' 27th-round pick in last year's Draft, Thompson made his first Midwest League appearance after recovering from biceps tendinitis suffered during Spring Training. He walked Jamal Austin to open the contest, then retired the next eight batters before issuing another leadoff walk to Austin in the fourth.
That inning proved to be Thompson's most challenging of the night as Austin stole second and third. Jharmidy De Jesus also walked to put runners on the corners with one out, but the Orange Coast College product retired the next two LumberKings. He ended up throwing 70 pitches, 39 for strikes.
When Williams came out of the bullpen to pitch the sixth, he was unaware of the feat Thompson had begun.
"When I came in, it was just another game," Williams said. "I didn't even realize it was a no-hitter until I looked up at the scoreboard in the seventh inning. ... I was a little bit nervous at that point. I knew [Thompson] was throwing really well. But when you're in the bullpen, you're screwing around, you're talking a little, so you don't know just how well the starter's going."
After retiring six of the first seven batters he faced -- Steven Baron was hit by a pitch -- Williams struggled a bit in the eighth. The 22-year-old walked Carlton Tanabe, an at-bat that concerned the starter-turned-reliever going into the ninth.
"It's funny because I had a really rough eighth inning," Williams said. "I was trying to find my location, so I really wanted to throw strikes. But [catcher Rafael Neda] called a great game for the both of us. He was great out there. So I was feeling really comfy going back out there for the ninth, knowing he was out there with me."
In the ninth, Williams had a scare in the ninth when Baron hit a high chopper back to the mound that he dropped on the transfer.
"'Oh crap, oh crap' was all I was thinking," he said.
But after a successful toss to first, the Ohio native struck out the last two batters to give the Timber Rattlers their first no-hitter since Jake Odorizzi and Adrian Rosario combined on one at Cedar Rapids on Aug. 24, 2010.
It was the third no-hitter in the Minor Leagues this season. Three Greensboro Grasshoppers threw one in the South Atlantic League on April 24 and Justin Wilson combined with two relievers on another for Triple-A Indianapolis on Sunday.
The no-hitter was an especially big moment for Thompson. Not only was he coming off an injury, the 21-year-old right-hander underwent Tommy John surgery in high school in 2009. Concerns over the procedure and lengthy rehab process contributed to his falling Draft stock last year. But Thompson never doubted that a night like Friday would come.
"Eventually, I thought something like tonight would happen, definitely," he said. "Everything I was doing during the process, I wasn't expecting anything less than to end up here in pro ball. ... [When I was drafted last year], I wanted to get started. Once I could get healthy, I didn't want to wait any longer."
The no-hitter also came almost a year to the day that Thompson lost his stepsister, Heather Faith Beyer, following a 15-month battle with breast cancer. She would have loved to have been there for him on the biggest day of his baseball career.
"She would definitely be proud of me and she would have called me, that's for sure," Thompson said. "She was a big baseball fan."
Gregory Hopkins had two hits, including a three-run homer, and Jason Rogers went 2-for-4 with a double and an RBI for the Timber Rattlers, who have won a season-high five straight.