Josh Turley's secret weapon is becoming less of a secret.
"Throughout the season, I've gotten some interesting looks and reactions on some faces. A look of surprise, shock," he said with a laugh. "It's just not too often you see someone mixing it in. And that adds to the effectiveness."
A knuckleball. And no, Turley isn't your typical knuckleballer -- he's just a three-year Minor League veteran trying to get an edge on his opponents. So far, at 7-0 with a 1.69 ERA, he appears to know what he's doing.
"I bet by now it's in the scouting reports," he said, "but I think that just adds to it, and I'm seeing more success with my other pitches as well."
Turley, sporadically mixing in his knuckleball, kept Tampa off-balance all day in taking a no-hitter into the seventh inning. He matched up in a pitchers' duel with Miguel Sulbaran, though, as the Class A Advanced Yankees edged the Flying Tigers, 1-0, in 12 innings on Friday.
Turley struck out eight, walked three and ended up allowing a pair of hits but lost his chance at a win, thanks to a shutdown effort by Sulbaran and the Tampa bullpen. Greg Bird led off the 12th with his fourth homer, a blast off the scoreboard, to send the Yankees to their sixth straight win.
"I would have loved to have sneaked out a win for the team, but that's just baseball and the nature of the game," Turley said.
Turley's effort was just what Lakeland could have used to break what's become a seven-game losing streak. The 23-year-old southpaw matched his effort from May 27, when he limited Jupiter to a pair of hits over eight innings in a 1-0 win. Friday's performance was the fourth scoreless outing in his last six starts, and he's allowed only four runs over his last 41 innings.
"I was mixing in a lot of two-seam fastballs and curveballs, a cutter and changeup and threw quite a few knuckleballs tonight," he said after lowering his ERA to 1.69. "I would say I've been throwing them since the beginning of this season, mixing it five to 10 times a game. I threw it a little last year, but it's fairly new for me."
Josh Turley is 7-0 with a 1.69 ERA in 17 games, including a dozen starts, for Lakeland. (Cliff Welch/MiLB.com)
Unless it's a custom create-a-player in a video game, it's rare to see what is an otherwise typical starting pitcher sprinkle in a knuckleball alongside a fastball and cutter, but that's what Turley has managed to do. It's a pitch that, at the very least, catches almost everyone off-guard.
"It's a pitch I've enjoyed throwing, and I'm just getting the feel of it and throwing it in game situations, which has been great," he said. "To get a feel for the pitch, it's been really effective; it's just something to throw at a hitter."
Turley, the Tigers' 16th-round pick in 2012, began the season in the bullpen but joined the rotation as the Flying Tigers dealt with some injuries. He tied season highs in innings and strikeouts against Tampa.
"I didn't really try to do anything too different, just attacked hitters and I was trying to work down in the zone, mix my pitches," he said. "I was, for the most part, pretty effective."
Sulbaran also was sharp, taking a no-hitter into the fifth until Connor Harrell led off with a double. The 20-year-old left-hander fanned five and walked one, and the Yankees bullpen carried the one-hitter into the 10th, when Harrell singled for the Tigers' only other hit of the game.
Jaron Long, Ramon Benjamin, Nick Rumbelow and Brett Gerritse (3-3) combined for seven scoreless innings, with Gerritse earning the win after Bird went deep off reliever Calvin Drummond (2-3).
For Turley, the chance for a no-hitter loomed over his 12th start.
"It's one of those things in baseball everybody dreams of doing, but it's one of the hardest things in baseball to do, hardly anybody does it," he said. "I was definitely excited, a bunch of adrenaline rushing through me, but I tried to stay as calm as possible and pitch my game. It turned out pretty well."
The significance of pitching on Independence Day also gave Turley's performance an added twist. He said the crowd of 5,062 -- a big one by Florida State League averages -- got everyone going.
"Definitely, everyone was pumped up for it, it's a great day of celebration for all of us. Having a great crowd adds on to the adrenaline you're feeling," Turley said. "That's the excitement we felt through the game, playing in front of a big crowd, it adds on to the nature of the game and makes it that much more exciting.
"Playing on the Fourth of July, it's a great honor, and if it wasn't for our troops, we wouldn't have this opportunity, so we make the most of it and go about our business every day."