Arnold Leon was making his first start of the season after 26 relief appearances. Jason Fernandez was coming out of the bullpen for only the third time after 18 starts this year.
The role reversal paid historic dividends for the Midland RockHounds.
Leon and Fernandez combined on the franchise's first no-hitter in more than 15 years Saturday night at CitiBank Ballpark, pitching the RockHounds to a 5-0 blanking of the Corpus Christi Hooks in the second game of a doubleheader.
While he was told three days ago that he would get his first start in the nightcap, Leon had no idea how long he was expected to go.
After working around a leadoff walk to Wladimir Sutil in the opening frame, the 20-year-old Mexican right-hander mowed down seven straight batters before issuing another free pass to Sutil with two outs in the third.
The second-year pro, who posted a 2.86 ERA and two saves in 20 relief outings at Class A Advanced Stockton last year, got Drew Meyer to fly out to center on his 44th and final pitch of the night.
"They came up to me in the dugout and told me that was it," said Leon, who was 1-1 with a 4.74 ERA out of the bullpen. "I said, 'What?!' I was thinking four or five innings, but they know what's good for me."
Leon immediately retreated to the clubhouse to ice down his arm and do his postgame exercises. Fernandez strode to the mound without giving a second thought to the situation at hand.
"It just seemed like it was very relaxed," said the Texas League All-Star. "There's no pressure when you don't even know what's going on."
"In the fifth and sixth inning, I walked back outside and watched some of the game," Leon added. "I said, 'Let's go for it.' I was nervous. In the seventh inning, I came out and I was excited."
Fernandez (7-8), Oakland's 11th-round pick in the 2006 Draft, still wasn't getting it. After pitching around a leadoff walk in the fourth and breezing through the fifth and sixth, a quick glance at the scoreboard and a glimpse of Leon put things into focus.
"In the bottom of the sixth inning, I looked up and saw that Arnold hadn't given up a hit," Fernandez said. "Then I saw him pacing up and down from the clubhouse to the dugout. I said, 'Whoa!' I had to look back out there. Then I looked around [at my teammates] and wondered if anybody even knew."
That question was answered after Fernandez got Jimmy Van Ostrand on a flyout and Mark Ori on a grounder to third to start the seventh.
"The [public address announcer] told the crowd to get up and make some noise when there were two outs," said Fernandez, who has given up six hits over 10 scoreless innings in his three relief outings.
He didn't blink at the pressure, inducing Jonathan Fixler into a game-ending groundout with only his 33rd pitch of the night and providing the 5,695 fans in attendance with the first no-hitter in the seven-year history of CitiBank Ballpark.
"I just hugged [Leon] and asked him if he knew," said Fernandez.
"It felt good to throw a no-hitter with another pitcher," Leon added after the duo completed the fourth no-hitter in Midland history and first since Shad Williams tossed a seven-inning gem against Arkansas on May 28, 1994.
While he was pleased with his performance as a starter, Leon expects to be back at his old job later this week.
"I'm going to be in the bullpen," he said.
Fernandez, however, is embracing his new role.
"I see myself staying in the 'pen," said the 24-year-old righty. "I've developed enough as a starter. Hopefully, I'll be able to keep this role. I love the bullpen."
The no-hitter was the first in the Texas League since Frisco's Neftali Felix and Trey Hodges combined on a 5 1/3-inning gem last Aug. 19. Frisco's Matt Harrison tossed the last seven-inning no-hitter on May 18, 2008.
There hasn't been a nine-inning no-no in the Texas League since A.J. Murray, Steve Karsay and Scott Feldman combined on a perfect game for the RoughRiders against Corpus Christi on July 28, 2005.
Hatuey Mendoza of Arkansas was the last hurler to throw a solo nine-inning no-hitter on May 13, 2002 against Tulsa.
Wilton Lopez pitched a four-hitter to lead the Hooks to a 4-0 victory in the opener.