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Mills spins seven-inning gem for Suns

Nationals prospect carries no-hit bid into sixth, fans eight
McKenzie Mills has the second-lowest WHIP in the South Atlantic League at 0.88. (Ken Inness/MiLB.com)
June 23, 2017

Class A Hagerstown pitching coach Sam Narron stressed to his staff at the outset of the second half to consistently locate the ball down in the zone. McKenzie Mills took that advice and ran with it Friday night.The Nationals' prospect pitched a career-best seven scoreless innings with eight strikeouts in

Class A Hagerstown pitching coach Sam Narron stressed to his staff at the outset of the second half to consistently locate the ball down in the zone. McKenzie Mills took that advice and ran with it Friday night.
The Nationals' prospect pitched a career-best seven scoreless innings with eight strikeouts in the Suns' 4-0 win over Greensboro at Municipal Stadium. The left-hander, who carried a no-hit bid into the sixth, gave up three hits and walked one. 

Gameday box score
"I will say that my command wasn't the best early," Mills said. "I think the biggest thing for me was that I had to tell myself to calm down and just throw everything with conviction and just have that confidence that I've had all season.
"I think everything worked pretty good, I ran into a couple of problems here and there, but I was able to come back, compete and win a ballgame." 
Mills (8-2) has gone at least six innings while winning all four starts this month. Last season, the Marietta, Georgia, native compiled a 3.71 ERA and 1.33 WHIP in 12 starts with Class A Short Season Auburn. Through 13 outings in his first full professional season, the 21-year-old has the South Atlantic League's second-best WHIP (0.88) and is seventh on the circuit in ERA (2.41). Mills is tied for third in the league with 80 whiffs and has walked 13 in 69 2/3 innings. 
"I always had good strikeout numbers, but the biggest thing this year is not having as many walks," Mills said. "Really, it's just been getting strike one. Our manager, Patrick Anderson, and Sam Narron have really stressed strike one and getting ahead. Once I have that in my mind, the rest just takes over." 
Mills kept his coaches' words in mind as he retired the first 12 hitters and threw 60 strikes among 87 pitches. Colby Lusignan led off the fifth with a walk, but the 2014 18th-round pick retired the next three batters to keep his no-hitter intact. 
With two outs in the sixth, the Grasshoppers broke through with consecutive singles from Corey Bird, Eric Gutierrez and No. 9 Marlins prospect James Nelson. Mills worked out of the bases-loaded jam when he fanned Lusignan on a payoff pitch, and believes he was never out of control. 
"The whole time, I told myself to stay calm," the 6-foot-4, 205-pound hurler said. "The biggest things in those situations, I believe, if you're not calm and you're nervous that you're not going to be able to execute. Execution at the highest levels is the most important in high-pressure situations.
"So, I just told myself to stay calm, take a deep breath and go execute. My fastball is one of my pitches I love the most -- I'm going to ride and die with it. I just went out and laid it on the line and good thing I got a good result." 
Mills came out for the seventh and threw his fifth 1-2-3 inning of the game. After he retired Dalton Wheat with a ground out to first base, Mills completed his first scoreless outing since May 20 when he threw six frames against Lakewood. 
"It was really, really great," the Georgia high school product said. "It was the second time I've thrown seven innings, so it's something that I really pride myself on, just really give our bullpen rest so when those guys come in they don't have to take up as many innings." 
After going 0-5 with a 7.27 ERA in 12 appearances across two levels in 2015, Mills said he took stock of his situation and refocused his approach in 2016 after getting some sound advice. He credits this "rude awakening" for his success over the last two years. 
"I think the biggest thing is I've had a whole lot of mentors," Mills said. "My parents are a big influence and they're always telling me, 'Once you cross those white lines, it's all about you. You go out, and this is something that you really want and you go out there and take it.' And just to have fun again. In high school, I always had fun and that's the same mindset I have here."
Steven Fuentes allowed a hit with one punchout over two scoreless frames in relief of Mills. 
No. 27 Nationals prospect Daniel Johnson ripped his Sally League-leading 14th homer as part of a three-hit, three-RBI game for the Suns. Tres Barrera also collected three hits and drove in a run, while Aldrem Corredor recorded two hits and scored twice for Hagerstown.

Andrew Battifarano is a contributor to MiLB.com. Follow him on Twitter, @AndrewAtBatt.