In 25 career starts, Ranger Suarez hadn't thrown a complete game. On Tuesday, he did more than that, twirling a no-hitter for the Class A Short Season Crosscutters.
The left-handed Philadelphia prospect allowed only a leadoff walk over seven innings to lead Williamsport to a 4-0 win over Auburn in the first game of a doubleheader. The 20-year-old struck out five in the team's first no-hitter since Yacksel Rios, Mark Meadors and Manny Martinez combined on a nine-frame feat on Aug. 18, 2013.
"I was really focusing, and concentration was at an all-time high," Suarez said through Crosscutters pitching coach Hector Berrios, who served as translator. "I just knew that I had to get back to focusing first and foremost and keeping the ball down, because that's where I usually have success."
Suarez (4-0) walked Doubledays leadoff man Blake Perkins on five pitches. Then the Venezuela native put Jack Sundberg in an 0-2 hole before running the count full and inducing a double play on a comebacker. He retired the next 19 batters of the game on 67 pitches -- 47 strikes.
"I actually thought about it in the first inning. But as the game went on, I did a good job of staying within myself, staying focused and getting hitters out early in counts," Suarez said. "I didn't really put any added pressure that would cause me to leave a ball over the plate and lose the no-hitter."
"After the third inning -- he was mostly fastballs [before that] -- is when he started to use the changeup and slider," Berrios added. "From the third inning on, he really got into a grove with the three-pitch mix and that was what took him home."
The superlative outing dropped his ERA to 2.09, and he has gone 3-0 with 13 strikeouts, six walks and a 1.17 ERA in his past four starts, spanning 23 innings. He hasn't allowed more than two earned runs in a game since his third start of the season at Tri-City on June 29.
"In the beginning of the year, he threw too many two-seamers and that's what caused the ball to trickle out of the zone," Berrios said. "Once he started going back to the four-seamer is when he hit his stride, and now he's not walking as many guys as he did before. He fell in love with it because it was moving so much, but once he started to see it was causing him to get hard, he said, 'Let's go back to the four-seamer' and he's taken off from there."
Suarez allowed 17 hits in 15 2/3 innings over his first starts, with opponents batting .274 against him. In the four starts since, he's given up 14 hits and held opponents to a .173 average.
Signed by the Phillies at age 16 in 2012, Suarez pitched in Rookie-level ball his first four seasons in the Minors. He went 8-4 with a 1.69 ERA, striking out 115 while walking only eight in 130 1/3 innings.
"What he's done is improve his velocity -- he was throwing anywhere from 86 to 90 [mph], now he sits 90 to 93," Berrios said. "He also offers the two-seamer every now and then and a slider which he can get away from lefties, he struggled [doing that] with a curveball.
"He's always had a good feel for pitching, and in his first year, he's been so consistent in throwing strikes. He's just continued to improve what he had. Tonight was a compilation of all that hard work."
First baseman Darick Hall did most of the damage offensively for the Crosscutters with a two-RBI double in the first and a run-scoring single in the third.
Auburn starter Tyler Watson (1-2) allowed four runs -- three earned -- in three innings, allowing four hits and one walk.