Austin Schulfer has bounced between starting and piggybacking this season, but if Wednesday's historic performance is any indication, he could be in line for a spot in the Class A Kernels rotation.
The Twins right-hander struck out seven over five innings and Jose Martinez finished off the 15th no-hitter in franchise history as Cedar Rapids beat Burlington, 9-0, to salvage a split of a doubleheader at Perfect Game Field. It marked Cedar Rapids' second no-no in as many seasons after Edwar Colina and Jovani Moran hurled one against South Bend on May 2, 2018.
Video: Kernels complete no-hitter
"Everything was working," Schulfer said. "I put in a lot of work in the offseason and in Spring Training with the coaches and staff, just being able to throw everything and anything in any count, and [Wednesday] that's exactly what happened. [Catcher Chris Williams] and I were on the same page all day. I think I shook him off once in five innings."
It didn't look like a dominant outing was in the cards two batters into the game as six of Schulfer's first 10 pitches missed the strike zone, including a four-pitch walk to Angels No. 14 prospect Kevin Maitan. But the the 23-year-old bounced back to strike out Nonie Williams on three pitches and didn't allow a baserunner the rest of the way.
"I feel like I always have one of those at-bats an outing where I'm close, and not that I'm trying to nibble, but I miss by an inch here or there," Schulfer said. "Those kind of things happen, but you just take a deep breath and reset. That's what I did, and I'm confident in my stuff and what the catchers are putting down, so I just grip and rip most of the time. Just bouncing right back is really important."
Video: Bechtold's defensive gem for Cedar Rapids
Schulfer (4-2) got through the second and third on 22 pitches with a little help from third baseman Andrew Bechtold to end the third. Bechtold made a backhanded grab and jump-throw to first to retire Jordyn Adams, the sixth-ranked Angels prospect who sports an 80-grade run tool.
The 2018 19th-round pick faced Maitan again to start the fourth and got him to ground out to second. Schulfer struck out the final five batters he faced swinging, starting with another three-pitch punchout of Williams.
"It's one of those things where I don't even realize I'm in such a groove," he said. "I'm just trying to get them out. Our philosophy is to punch guys out and attack them at all points in the at-bat. When you can throw strikes with multiple pitches and keep guys guessing, it kind of happens itself."
Gameday box score
Martinez took over for Schulfer after the 2018 19th-round pick threw 68 pitches, one shy of his season high. The 22-year-old righty from Venezuela set down all six batters he faced, getting Francisco Del Valle to fly to center field to complete the third no-hitter in the Midwest League this season.
"I honestly didn't know there was a no-hitter because I was in a groove and not really worried about those things," Schulfer said. "I'd been tired, had a start [on May 13], went three innings [in my next outing] and had three days of rest. ... It just sort of happened that it was the fifth inning, I look up and see it was a no-hitter. Obviously you want to go for the [individual] accolades ... but being part of a combined no-hitter is pretty cool too."
While Schulfer looked comfortable as a starter in the matinee, he entered with a 5.14 ERA over seven innings in two starts this season and a 1.59 ERA in 26 2/3 frames out of the bullpen. His last appearance also was a hitless one -- a three-inning relief stint in which he fanned eight of the 10 batters he faced. How he enters the game matters little to the 6-foot-2, 175-pound hurler.
"Coming into the season, our front office and coordinators were very good with relaying what's going to happen and what your role is gonna be so you can really focus on that," Schulfer said. "They said you're going to be filling in, doing whatever we need to do, so I've had games where I come in in the eighth inning and throw two innings or the second and throw three or four. I'm comfortable in any situation, and that's been a learning curve and process. The way I look at it, you've got to get 27 outs, so anything I can do to help with that is comfortable to me."
2019 Minor League milestones
His eight consecutive hitless innings -- with 15 strikeouts and two walks -- followed a three-inning start against Quad Cities on May 13 in which he gave up three runs on a season-high four hits and three walks. He's bounced back to lower his overall ERA to 2.41, which would rank 10th on the circuit if he had enough innings to qualify.
"It's one of those things where I didn't pitch horrible against Quad Cities in my eyes, but I was leaving some breaking balls up in the zone and Quad Cities is a really good team -- one of the best lineups in the league," Schulfer said. "It was just a little adjustment. I was trying to do too much at some point, and just more trusting my stuff, taking a little off and letting it work."
Chris Williams led the Kernels offense with a three-run homer in the sixth and Jacob Pearson went 2-for-3 with two runs scored.
Bees starter Hector Yan (0-2) allowed five runs -- four earned -- on five hits and a walk with six strikeouts in four innings.
Burlington won Game 1 of the double dip, 5-4, behind Connor Fitzsimons, who homered and drove in three of the Bees' five runs.
No Kernels batter had multiple hits in the opener, but Jean Carlos Arias belted a three-run homer in the third.