Jose Almonte got a late start to the season after injuring his groin in Spring Training, but he's already making up for lost time.
The Red Sox prospect hurled six hitless innings in his third start of the season Friday night as Class A Greenville shut down Rome, 3-1, at State Mutual Stadium. The right-hander struck out five and walked two en route to his first full-season win.
"He had good command today," Drive pitching coach Walter Miranda said. "He's been having issues with his delivery, but his delivery was more compact, which allowed him to be more effective with his command."
Almonte (1-1) had walked 77 batters and hit 18 over 163 2/3 innings in his first three Minor League seasons, including 38 free passes and 11 hit batters last summer with Class A Short Season Lowell. This year, he's issued six walks and hasn't hit a batter.
After two of the first three Braves reached base, one on a wild third strike, Almonte retired 16 in a row before walking Luke Dykstra with two outs in the sixth. He threw first-pitch strikes to nine of those hitters, and Miranda said he was impressed with the 20-year-old's dominant stretch.
"He was more consistent with the first-pitch strike," Miranda said. "Even when he was behind, he was making good pitches. He was introducing more of the curveball and the changeup. After he went through the lineup the first time, they hadn't seen many off-speed pitches. That kind of improved his game as the game progressed."
Almonte lasted five innings in each of his first two outings, allowing two runs, striking out four and walking two in both. He hadn't surpassed 80 pitches until Friday night when he threw 82, 50 for strikes, and the Greenville coaching staff had no inclination to let him go any longer.
"There were no reasons to send him back," Miranda said. "I know he had the no-hitter, but it's hard to get a no-hitter in A-ball when we control the pitch count. ... You have to be very efficient. We're looking after the player. He wanted to go back, [but] he'd have finished over 100 pitches and he's not ready to go over 100 pitches yet."
The Red Sox signed the native of the Dominican Republic in 2012, when Almonte was 16. He posted a sub-3.50 ERA in each of his first three seasons and finally took the step to full-season ball this year. And while he's still a work-in-progress, Miranda said he's excited to watch him develop.
"I think he's growing. He's been here in the States three years, but he's still a young kid," the pitching coach said. "I think he's growing and maturing as pitcher, knowing what he's capable [of doing] and having a game plan and being more consistent with his routine. The mental game is a big part for him. ... As the game progresses, sometimes he gets distracted or tries to do too much. We need to keep the effort level under control."
Anyelo Leclerc relieved Almonte and lost the no-hit bid when Carlos Castro doubled with one out in the seventh. Alejandro Salazar followed with a single to break up the shutout. Bobby Poyner pitched a 1-2-3 ninth for his 10th save.
Kyri Washington staked the Drive to a 1-0 lead with a sacrifice fly in the third. Tate Matheny and Red Sox No. 16 prospect Josh Ockimey drove in runs in the sixth, with Matheny singling to center and Ockimey doubling to left.
Chris Tripodi is a producer for MiLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @christripodi.