It was a long time coming, but Athletics righthander Craig Italiano finally got his second professional win on April 9 against Burlington. But it wasn’t just any win. Italiano and reliever Branden Dewing combined on a 7-inning no-hitter for Kane County, the first in baseball this season.
Italiano has had a hard journey since Oakland drafted him in the second round in 2005 and signed him away from a commitment to Texas Christian for $725,500. Italiano made his pro debut that summer, going 1-2, 6.75 in the Rookie-level Arizona League. Rated as Oakland’s No. 8 prospect in the 2006 Prospect Handbook, he made his way to low Class A Kane County to start 2006, but lasted only four starts, going 0-1, 3.50, before suffering a torn labrum, attributed to his max-effort delivery and short arm action, which required surgery and ended his season.
Things only got more difficult in 2007, when Italiano, 21, started the year back in Kane County going 0-3, 12.71 in six starts before being struck in the head by a line drive off the bat of Mariners shortstop Carlos Truinfel. He suffered a fractured skull and spent three days in a Chicago hospital. Italiano, whose fastball was once rated the best in the Oakland system, returned in time to pitch in instructional league in 2007, but concerns remained about his mentality after being hit by the line drive.
This season, Italiano is back with Kane County for the third time, and so far it looks like the third time could be the charm. In his first start on April 4 against Beloit, Italiano pitched four innings, allowing three runs on five hits to go with five strikeouts. Then came his second start, in the back end of a doubleheader against Burlington.
Italiano said he felt good after the first inning, in which he retired the side in order. But he couldn’t have expected what happened next, as he went on to retire the first 16 hitters he faced, striking out eight of them including seven in a row from the third through the fifth, something Italiano said he didn’t even realize until he was told about it after the game. What stood out most to Italiano were on a couple of those strikeouts where he fell behind the hitters but came back to get them.
Italiano lost the perfect game bid when he hit Burlington’s Antonio Jimenez with one out in the sixth, then was removed two batters later after reaching his pitch limit. Dewing came in and retired all four hitters he faced to complete the no-hitter.
"It was tough," Italiano said of being removed. "I really wanted to finish it, and everyone wanted me to finish it, but Dewing came in and did a great job."
The performance against Burlington was certainly a great sign for Italiano, who was making his first appearance on the same mound where he was hit by the line drive a year earlier. Before the injury, his curveball had shown signs of being a second plus pitch to compliment his fastball.
Italiano will make his next start on Tuesday against South Bend.
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