Jasseel De La Cruz had allowed at least three earned runs in each of his previous four starts and watched his ERA climb from 2.92 to 4.41. He made a move back toward the former number with a nearly unhittable outing Wednesday.
The Braves' No. 14 prospect spun five innings of one-hit ball in Double-A Mississippi's 4-0 win over Birmingham at Trustmark Park. He struck out four batters and walked one, leaving after throwing 53 pitches as the organization limits his innings as the season winds down.
Video: De La Cruz's fourth K for Mississippi
"It was impressive to watch him because he had a couple rough outings," Mississippi pitching coach Dennis Lewallyn said. "He's a young kid and has never pitched this many innings before, and I think that may have been a little bit of [the reason behind his struggles]. Today, he looked more like his old self. We were supposed to keep him at 60 pitches, which we were hoping would be four innings, but he made it five. When he throws it over the plate, he's pretty good."
De La Cruz (4-7) ran a few deep counts in a perfect first inning and needed 17 pitches to retire the side in order, striking out No. 9 and 10 White Sox prospects Luis Alexander Basabe and Blake Rutherford to end the frame. He struck out 14th-ranked Gavin Sheets on six pitches to start the second before issuing a four-pitch walk to Damek Tomscha, who was quickly erased on a double-play ball off the bat of Ti'Quan Forbes.
"He had a much better tempo; he'd been getting too deliberate in his delivery, and he worked pretty good between starts on picking up his tempo," Lewallyn said. "His rhythm was better and he basically threw three pitches for strikes. The two kind of go hand in hand, but because he had a better tempo, his delivery worked better. His arm synced with his body."
Gameday box score
The 22-year-old right-hander started pitching to contact more over his final three frames, recording his next eight outs on 20 pitches before Forbes singled to center with two outs in the fifth to break up the no-hit bid. De La Cruz quickly bounced back to strike out Zach Remillard on three pitches and finish his day.
"With the flow of the game, they realized he was throwing strikes and they were swinging early," Lewallyn said. "He's got such life on his fastball and mixed in the occasional change and slider to keep them honest, but he was attacking mainly with his fastball and getting early contact."
Kurt Hoekstra followed with two hitless innings and Bradley Roney pitched around a walk in the eighth to keep the one-hitter intact. Thomas Burrows allowed a one-out single to Rutherford in the ninth before retiring Sheets and Tomscha to complete the Braves' 14th shutout of the season.
The start was De La Cruz's best with Mississippi, as he hadn't allowed fewer than five baserunners in any of his previous 12 outings since being promoted from Class A Advanced Florida on May 19. That bump followed his May 18 no-hitter, when the native of the Dominican Republic needed only 89 pitches to author the first no-no in Fire Frogs history.
2019 MiLB include
"We're under pretty tight guidelines with him because he's jumped up quite a bit from what he threw last year." Lewallyn said. "He's got three starts left and we're going to keep him around that 60 [innings] number. He's proven what he's capable of, so we want to keep him healthy going into the offseason."
Eighth-ranked Braves prospect William Contreras homered in the fourth inning, his third long ball since he was promoted from Florida on June 5. Ryan Casteel opened the scoring with an RBI double in the first, while No. 18 prospect Trey Harris and Jonathan Morales each had two hits.
No. 29 White Sox prospect Bernardo Flores (3-6) allowed two runs on five hits while fanning six over five innings for the Barons.