'Jackets' Gavin spins seven hitless innings

Giants prospect walks one, ties career high with nine strikeouts

John Gavin leads the South Atlantic League with a .167 opponents' batting average. (Chris Robertson/MiLB.com)

By Chris Bumbaca / MiLB.com | June 23, 2018 11:13 PM

All season long, John Gavin has been one of the stingiest hurlers in the South Atlantic League. 

The Giants prospect showed why by keeping Rome out of the hit column for seven innings Saturday, tying his career high with nine strikeouts, as Class A Augusta walked off with a 1-0, 10-inning victory on Saturday at SRP Park. 

Gavin credited the strategy he and pitching coach Clay Rapada implemented while giving catcher Jeffry Parra props for calling a solid game. His curveball was sharper than usual, in his opinion, giving him more to work with than relying on his fastball-changeup combinations. 

"Changeup was working really well today," he said. "That was a good thing. I was able to establish it early. When they thought a changeup was coming the second and third time through the order, I was able to trust the fastball and let them put the ball in day. At the end of the day, it was pitching backwards and having fun with it." 

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The 2017 eighth-round pick retired the first 12 hitters he faced, racking up six of his strikeouts.

"After the first inning, I kind of knew that I was feeling good," Gavin said. "But I didn't really try and think about it. I think every pitcher is different, but I know when I give up my first hit, whether it be in the first inning or ninth inning, I know. I try not to think about it, but as it gets later into the game, it's also harder to not think about it."

The left-hander jumped out to a 1-2 advantage against William Conteras, the younger brother of Cubs catcher Willson Contreras, who worked a walk to end the perfect game. 

"He's a really good hitter," Gavin said.  

Contreras didn't take the bat off his shoulders for the first couple of pitches of the at-bat.

"He kind of freaked me out," Gavin said. "I was like, 'What in the world is he doing?' ... I was trying to get him to chase and he wasn't doing it." 

The 6-foot-6 prospect missed with his 3-2 offering to Contreras before taking a lap around the mound in an attempt to regain his composure. The exercise proved worthwhile as Contreras, the Braves' No. 17 prospect, was Rome's lone baserunner against Gavin.

"I think you hear a lot different pitchers talk about getting into a rhythm. I think that's what happened tonight," he said. "That's kind of the fun part in the sense that that's what you work for when you're in a bullpen, putting in those extra sprints in between starts. That's what you strive to do, is get into rhythms. When you get into rhtyhms, it kind of makes everything easier. You kind of feel like you're playing a video game out there." 

The 22-year-old induced a popup from Jefrey Ramos, fanned 19th-ranked prospect Derian Cruz and got Hagen Owenby to fly to top-ranked Giants prospect Heliot Ramos in center to strand Contreras, who took second on a wild pitch. 

Gavin fanned Justin Smith and Braves No. 21 prospect Isranel Wilson for the first two outs of the sixth and his final punchouts of the evening. A trio of infield popouts got him through the seventh. 

Being on a pitch count allowed Gavin to relax and come to grips early with the fact there was a miniscule chance he'd go the distance. 

"I think it took a little pressure off me, knowing the bullpen was going to take care of the last couple innings," he said. 

The San Jose, California, native threw 62 of 92 pitches for strikes and lowered his ERA to 1.72, which ranks fourth in the SAL. 

"I think just being a competitor out there and having a desire to give our guys a chance to win has been the big thing," Gavin said.

Franklin Van Gurp (4-0) carried the GreenJackets' no-hit bid into the ninth. That's when the nerves began kicking in, as Gavin sat watching in the dugout. 

"I was nervous throughout the whole entire thing," the Cal State Fullerton product said. "The last two innings, I think I ate half my fingernails. ... I was laughing in the dugout. I was trying to keep it loose, trying to not think about it a whole lot." 

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The right-hander lost the no-hitter with one out in the ninth when Wilson singled to center. Once that happened, Gavin felt eyes from the entire team on him, so he tried to lighten the mood by feigning frustration and jokingly tossed the towel he was holding aside. 

"I think that eased the tension," he said. "Sure enough, we were lucky enough to get the 'W.'" 

Van Gurp tossed three scoreless innings for the win, getting some help from his defense in the 10th, with Ramos making a running catch in center and Nick Hill coming up with a diving play in left.

"I had a lot of confidence in Gurpie to get it done," Gavin said. "He just got unlucky there with kind of a bloop hit. Nothing he could do, but he still got the win, so he might be the one laughing in the end." 

Manuel Geraldo broke the scoreless tie in the bottom of the inning with a single to center, plating Logan Baldwin.  

Chris Bumbaca is a contributor for MiLB.com based in New York. Follow him on Twitter @BOOMbaca. This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.

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