With Beloit already guaranteed a spot in the Midwest League playoffs, Matt Summers said the Snappers are able to relax and enjoy each and every second-half game.
Freed of the burden of having to win to reach the playoffs, Summers turned in his finest performance as a pro Tuesday night, tossing a three-hitter as Class A Beloit blanked the Kane County Cougars, 8-0.
"I would definitely say this is my best outing," he said following his first career complete game and shutout. "This is my first full year as a starter. I had some good outings out of the bullpen last year, but this takes the cake because I helped my team get a win.
Summers set down the side in order in each of the first two innings, then got Edul Escobar to bounce into a double play
to erase Murray Watts' leadoff walk in the third.
"It was really important," Summers said. "That's when I started to get my confidence going. My fastball generally had a lot of life and I felt confident throwing my slider behind in the count or for strikes."
In the fourth, the 22-year-old right-hander issued a free pass to Justin Trapp and uncorked a pair of wild pitches put a runner at third base. But he struck out Daniel Mateo and retired Jorge Bonifacio on a fly ball to escape unharmed.
Summers used another double play to get out of a jam in the sixth and retired his final 11 batters.
"I had everything going tonight and my catcher [Matthew Koch] put down what I was thinking, so we did really well together," he said. "I haven't been throwing my changeup as much lately, but I wanted to mix it in tonight and it worked out."
When did the Arizona native know it was going to be a special night?
"Probably about the second or third inning when I threw a couple changeups for strikes. That was when I knew that if I had that pitch working, it would be good," he said.
"I also got a couple double plays and the defense made some great plays running down balls in the outfield. If they don't make those plays, my pitch count would be high and I wouldn't have been able to go nine."
Selected by the Twins in the fourth round of the 2011 Draft out of UC-Irvine, Summers made the transition from the bullpen at the beginning of the year. He was 1-1 with six saves and a 0.87 ERA in 20 relief appearances for Rookie-level Elizabethton last season but moved into the rotation upon arriving in Beloit.
In 16 games, including 15, starts, he's 7-4 with a 3.69 ERA. The last time Summers threw a complete game was a no-hitter against Long Beach State in his last game of the 2011 Big West Conference season.
"It was extremely difficult," he said of the move from the bullpen. "I didn't think it would be that hard because I pitched a lot of innings in college. But going into a five-man rotation was big for me and I realized how much I had to hold back between starts to stay fresh.
"It's been difficult and I've had a lot of stuff thrown at me, but I have enjoyed it. I like both [relieving and starting]. I liked pitching in the ninth inning and I had that closer mentality when I came back out for the ninth tonight."
The Snappers went 39-31 in the first half of the season, finishing 5 1/2 games behind first-place Wisconsin in the Western Division. Regardless of where they finish in the second half, both teams will play in the postseason.
In five games since the Midwest League All-Star break, the Snappers are 4-1 with three shutouts. David Hurlbut, Tim Atherton and Corey Williams combined on a one-hitter on Friday in Cedar Rapids and Tim Shibuya allowed one hit over six innings the following night.
"We had a great break and we're relaxed after clinching a playoff spot already. It gave everyone a lot of confidence. It was huge," Summers said. "You know that every game doesn't have to be important. With the pressure off, it's making us play even better. I think we'll be stronger."
Nate Roberts went 3-for-5 and fell a triple shy of the cycle for the Snappers, while Koch homered as part of a three-hit night.
Kane County starter Kellen Moen (3-4) surrendered seven runs -- six earned -- on eight hits and a walk while striking out four over 4 2/3 innings.