Hawks' Weller steals spotlight with no-no
Blayne Weller knew there'd be some extra eyes on his start for Class A South Bend on Thursday night. Teammate Andrew Velazquez entered the evening three games away from tying a Minor League record.
"I would say there's a ton of spotlight on our whole team right now," Weller admitted.
But the 24-year-old D-backs prospect stole that spotlight with a nine-inning no-hitter, allowing an unearned run on two walks while striking out 12 in the Silver Hawks' 7-1 win over the Dragons at Dayton.
It was the second no-hitter of the Midwest League season, ninth in the Minors this year and sixth in South Bend franchise history.
"Oh, man. I can't wait to pitch again. It's an awesome feeling," said Weller, who improved to 5-4 with a 4.03 ERA on the season. "It reminded me why I love baseball, why the successes feel so great even throughout all the failures and the hard times."
As for Velazquez, he extended his on-base streak to 69 games with a first-inning walk and went 1-for-2 with a triple, a run scored and three walks. The longest on-base streak in Minor League Baseball belongs to Kevin Millar, who reached in 71 straight in 1997. Kevin Youkilis tied that mark in 2003, and Mookie Betts had an on-base streak of 66 games earlier this year.
"I understand his streak and I don't want to talk about it -- I don't want to jinx him," said Weller. "But he's a really good player, a really good hitter and he deserves everything that is happening for him."
But Velazquez is less concerned about potential jinxing.
"I brought it up to our hitting coach [Jon Mathews] the other day," Velazquez said. "Like, 'Hey, what do you think about this streak?' He said, 'You know what, man? Just ride the wave.' So I'm just enjoying it, taking it game by game. It's awesome."
Still, Velazquez has been feeling a bit of pressure, so much so that his leadoff walk against Dayton starter and 19th-ranked Reds prospect Amir Garrett came as a great relief.
"That was like a weight off my shoulders," Velazquez said. "I'd be lying if I told you I wasn't [thinking about the streak] until the at-bat when I get on every game."
Velazquez was stranded on third in the opening frame, preventing Weller from working with an early lead. The righty didn't need it. He tossed a 1-2-3 first.
In the second, though, No. 2 Reds prospect Phil Ervin worked a leadoff walk against Weller and stole second. He scored on a two-out throwing error by Velazquez after the shortstop came in on a weakly hit grounder off the bat of Jonathan Reynoso.
"I just charged in toward the mound, a little to my right and I made a quick throw and threw it over [first baseman Daniel Palka's] head," Velazquez said. "Luckily, [Weller] was able to keep going and still throw the no-hitter. He's got nasty stuff."
Considering the way the game turned out, Weller had no problem forgetting the unearned run.
"Walks are going to happen. Errors are going to happen. You keep pitching," said Weller, who's in his seventh Minor League season and played in independent ball in 2012 and part of 2013. "What's one walk and one run compared to [a no-hitter]?"
He struck out Gabriel Rosa to end that frame and begin a streak of five straight outs. A fourth-inning leadoff walk to Daniel Pigott didn't bother him, and he was perfect in each subsequent frame, setting down 14 in a row. The radar gun at Fifth Third Field clocked him at 95 mph in the ninth.
"I'm ecstatic. This doesn't come every day," Weller said. "It was more about not what worked, but what I could do to get through each hitter. I threw strikes, and my changeup was really good. It was just about the right pitch at the right time, getting in there and pitching.
"Every great experience in pro baseball stays with you, this is another one."
Velazquez quickly made up for his errant throw. He evened the score by tripling and coming across the plate on Chuck Taylor's groundout a half a frame later.
"[Garrett] was making good pitches. I was just battling to put something in play hard. He threw me a fastball middle-away, and I just went with it," Valazquez said. "It got down, but initially I didn't think I'd get three. It kicked around, and plus, I had to make up for that error."
Garrett (3-5) allowed two runs on two hits and five walks over five innings. He struck out six.
Josh Jackson is a contributor to MiLB.com.