Coming off a rocky start to his first full season, Burch Smith turned in his best performance since turning pro.
The Padres prospect recorded a career-high 13 strikeouts and carried a no-hitter into the eighth inning Saturday in the Class A Advanced Lake Elsinore Storm's 4-1 win over the Rancho Cucamonga Quakes.
"I think what I did best tonight was locate my fastball," said Smith, who won his second straight start. "I really didn't try to do anything too special, but this was definitely up there. I would probably say this is in my top one or two games."
Smith fanned two in the first inning, then struck out the side in the second. He added two more punchouts in the third and one in each of the fourth and fifth. He entered the sixth frame having allowed just one ball to leave the infield.
Smith hit Tony Delmonico with one out in the sixth -- a two-seam fastball he admits ran inside a little too much -- to break up the perfect game, but two more strikeouts left the runner stranded at first.
"I try to keep even-keeled throughout," Smith said. "I try to keep all that [perfect game] stuff at the back of my head and take it one pitch at a time."
Smith used a double play and his 12th strikeout to erase C.J. Retherford's leadoff walk in the seventh, but he lost the no-hitter an inning later.
Tyler Henson led off the eighth with a double to left field and took third when Jarrad Page grounded out to first. Smith caught Nick Akins looking at a third strike for his career-best 13th punchout, but a wild pitch enabled the Quakes to score their only run.
"My pitch count was getting up there, maybe the 90-100 range," said Smith, who threw 146 pitches for the University of Oklahoma Sooners in a Big 12 win against Texas Tech last May. "I left a fastball up over the plate and [Henson] got good wood on it and poked it to left field. As much as I tried not to let it, fatigue got to me and I lost velocity.
"I didn't want to get pulled, nobody does. You want to pitch in the ninth, but that is tough to do. There wasn't any soreness pulling at me, but it is still early in the season."
The 2011 14th-round Draft pick lowered his ERA to 3.67 and has given up four hits or fewer in four consecutive outings.
In his season debut on April 7, Smith (2-2) allowed five runs on nine hits over 4 1/3 innings in a loss to Stockton. Since then, he has fanned 30 batters over 22 2/3 frames in the hitter-friendly California League. He
served up three homers to the Ports' A.J. Kirby-Jones when the teams met on April 18, but Smith said he hasn't changed his approach.
"I really didn't do anything different tonight," the 22-year-old Texas native said. "I didn't have a different approach. I threw first-pitch strikes to get ahead in the count and whenever the situation warranted it, I would mix in my slider or changeup.
"As much as I did well tonight, there are still things I would like to improve. There's always things to work on, so I will get back to it again tomorrow."
Kevin Quackenbush worked a perfect ninth for his league-leading sixth save and Tyler Stubblefield went 2-for-3 with a solo homer and two runs scored for the Storm.
Rehabbing Dodgers right-hander Ronald Belisario (0-1) got the start for Rancho Cucamonga and allowed three runs on five hits over two innings. Garrett Gould fanned 12 over six innings, limiting Lake Elsinore to one run on four hits without walking a batter.