Morales, Sanchez, Zokan combine on no-no
Osmer Morales hadn't made a start in nearly a year, but the Mariners right-hander was able to start something special -- and historic -- on Friday.
Behind five innings from him and two frames apiece from Isaac Sanchez and Jake Zokan, Class A Advanced Bakersfield delivered a combined no-hitter in a 3-0 win over Modesto at Sam Lynn Ballpark.
"He had everything going for him," Blaze manager Eddie Menchaca said of Sanchez. "He worked both sides of the plate, pounded the zone and kept them off balance. The changeup was big for him today because he established his fastball early, and against an aggressive-hitting club, that worked in his favor."
Morales retired his first 13 batters before issuing a walk to Rockies' eighth-ranked prospect Dom Nunez. The 23-year-old, who entered the start with a 7.65 ERA, exited after throwing 40 of 63 pitches for strikes.
"For him to go five innings after not starting all season, that was tremendous," pitching coordinator Carlos Chantres said. "For us to all of a sudden to hand him the ball and for him to give us the innings and save the bullpen, you can't ask for much more than that."
With Class A Clinton, Morales collected three saves and posted a 0.63 ERA over 14 1/3 innings in April. He made his last start prior to Friday's game on July 17, 2015 for the LumberKings.
"It's huge for any pitcher to have a start like this," Menchaca said. "It's been exciting not only for us to watch, but it helps build his confidence moving forward."
Menchaca handed the ball over to Sanchez in the sixth and the New York native struck out two in the frame before fanning another in the seventh.
"He's got this good sinker and he just came in pounding the zone and went right after the hitters," Chantres said of the 23-year-old right-hander, who entered with a 2-1 record with two saves and a 1.91 ERA in 21 previous relief appearances. "He made pitches and had quick innings like we talked about."
Modesto's hurlers managed to match zeros with Bakersfield into the eighth. That's when Menchaca opted for 25-year-old southpaw Zokan because of his track record and matchup possibilities.
"We were talking about who we were going to bring in because we were still trying to close out the game," the skipper said. "Zokan hasn't given up a run all year. They had lefties coming up in the lineup so the matchup itself was good. It ended up working out in our favor."
The South Carolina native retired the side in order in the top of the eighth before Bakersfield got on the board with three runs in the bottom half. Gianfranco Wawoe stroked an RBI single and Jay Baum tacked on two more runs with another single.
"That was huge," Chantres said. "We were still trying to win the game at the time and not think too much about [the no-hitter]. By scoring the three runs, it just lets guys to go out and put up zeros."
Zokan closed out the ninth by striking out the side on 12 pitches for Bakersfield's first no-hitter in at least two decades, according to MLB Pipeline.
"To us, it was just another game," Menchaca said. "Even after we got the no-hitter, we were all just kind of like, 'It's awesome, it's cool. We won.' But we still have to come back tomorrow and play another game."
Menchaca acknowledged that the three pitchers couldn't have accomplished the feat on their own.
"The biggest part about no-hitters sometimes is the guy behind the plate," he said. "[Catcher] Daniel Torres deserves a lot of credit because he's the one calling the game. The pitchers executed the pitches, but you can't forget about the guy behind the plate who made it happen. He stuck to the gameplan and the pitchers just followed along."
Morales, Sanchez and Zokan combined for 14 strikeouts on 105 pitches -- 74 for strikes.
"I was most impressed with just the demeanor on the mound, the mound presence," Menchaca said. "It just tells you how locked in they were and how well they executed."
Michael Peng is a contributor to MiLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @MichaelXPeng.