Greensboro's Austin Brice hasn't slept in a while, and he still has flashbacks to a miserable night in April under the bright lights of the Sally League.
But on Tuesday, he looked more like a grizzled veteran, shaking off the stress and fatigue in one of his most dominant outings of the year.
"Today wasn't one of my better days," Brice said, "believe it or not."
But if seeing was believing, Hagerstown probably had a different opinion as hard-throwing starter Jose Urena and Brice combined for 14 strikeouts in a four-hitter in leading the Class A Grasshoppers past the Suns, 4-2.
Urena held Hagerstown to one hit and struck out five over five innings in his best start of the season after a 55-minute rain delay.
Brice, the Marlins' No. 12 prospect and No. 2 right-hander, struck out nine over four innings as he continues to alternate starting and coming out of the bullpen. He had held the Suns to one hit until the ninth, when a walk and an ensuing two-run homer by Jason Martinson put Hagerstown on the scoreboard.
This after Brice said he's been awake for the past two nights.
"Coming back from the road trip, I got home at 6 a.m., and for some reason, I couldn't fall asleep," he said. "I stayed up all night, same thing last night ... so when I got on the mound, I felt really lethargic. My legs weren't there at all. But I actually prefer to be uncomfortable, it makes you focus that much harder."
Brice struck out the side in the sixth after walking Caleb Ramsey. If he was tired, no one noticed.
"That was just me trying to find the zone," he said. "Every now and again, I get a little inconsistent with my upper body and I have to fix it. So I don't walk them on purpose, it's more of a feel thing."
Urena, Miami's No. 13 prospect and No. 3 righty, took a no-hitter into the fifth until Justin Miller hit a one-out single. He got out of the frame when Brett Newsome bounced into a double play.
For Brice, it was business as usual. The duo is paired up in a "piggy-back" system in which one starts and the other finishes the game. Brice has allowed two earned runs in his last three relief outings, going four frames each time.
"He's amazing, the stuff that comes out of his arm," Brice said of Urena. "It really is amazing to see some some of these [pitchers] with high velocity stuff, how they work a batter. He was on tonight and it's always fun watching someone when they're on. I felt really comfortable coming in after him."
Brice had a lead to work with in the sixth after Ryan Goetz hit a three-run homer in the bottom of the fifth. Brice said he'll start his next outing, with Urena coming in from the 'pen. And either way, he's cool with the plan.
"Honestly it doesn't matter to me, pitching is pitching. It doesn't matter who's starting, you have to throw strikes and execute," he said. "Really the situation with the starting and relieving, I treat it no differently. I warm up the same way, throw the same way."
Two months into his Greensboro career, 19-year-old Brice speaks with a little more confidence now that he's proven to himself he can survive in the league. He was an MiLB.com organizational All-Star last year with the Gulf Coast Marlins, but early on this year, he was doubting whether he was worthy of pitching in front of packed stadiums and bright lights.
"I'd never played in front of people, coming from the GCL. My first two starts were awful," he said. "I was having some second thoughts, and I talked a lot with Adam Conley, he would say, 'Try this, try that.' And finally I found something that works."
Brice, who was drafted out of Northwood High School in Pittsboro, N.C., has learned on the go since then. From a nervous rookie making his debut to pitching through two straight nights of insomnia two months later.
"Obviously they put you here for a reason because they think you can do it," he said. "And when probably the third batter of your Class A career hits a tank off you, you start thinking, with 8,000-9,000 fans watching, it's a shell shock, it's crazy. Honestly, I had to adjust to it, It's what you have to do -- that's the nature of the beast."