Getting traded is a part of the baseball business.
Everyone knows it, especially at this time of the year. But when you’re a 20-year-old prospect in low Class A, it’s not something that crosses your mind too often. Being part of a no-hitter probably doesn’t either, but righthander Hunter Strickland experienced both in a matter of days, first getting traded to the Pirates, then throwing six hitless innings in his organizational debut.
Strickland, a Red Sox 18th-round pick in 2007 from a Georgia high school, was enjoying a quality season in his first taste of full-season ball. Strickland went 5-4, 3.46 in 83 innings with Greenville, while his fastball was reportedly touching 94 mph in his last two starts with the Drive.
The Red Sox took advantage of Strickland’s rising stock, packaging him with shortstop Argenis Diaz to the Pirates to land big league first baseman Adam LaRoche. The move came as a shock to Strickland.
"It was definitely a surprise to me," Strickland said. "I had no idea. It’d never crossed my mind about me getting traded.
"I knew it could happen. But me and the guys in Greenville a couple weeks ago were talking, we were just like ‘somebody’s got to get traded sooner or later. There are just so many pitching prospects with Boston.’ It ended up being me. It took me by complete surprise, but I was excited about it."
Strickland was able to stay in the South Atlantic League, moving from Greenville to West Virginia to join his new organization. Making his West Virginia debut Monday night, Strickland faced a familiar foe, the Charleston RiverDogs, a team he had faced twice with Greenville and beaten once, allowing only three runs on six hits over 10 innings in those two outings.
Strickland got off on the right foot, pitching a 1-2-3 top of the first and retiring all three hitters on groundouts. He would retire the first seven hitters he faced before a one-out error in the third allowed the RiverDogs’ Mitch Abeita to reach base.
"I didn’t know how the night was going to end up," Strickland said. "The first thing was I just tried to go out there and find that rhythm, establish the fastball. I felt like I did that pretty early on. I just had to battle and keep it consistent."
Strickland recovered quickly from the error, striking out the next two hitters and retiring the next six overall before plunking Addison Maruszak with a pitch in the fifth. Strickland was pulled after six hitless innings, having struck out five.
Strickland succeeded despite relying almost entirely on two pitches, his fastball and changeup, while only mixing in the occaisional curveball.
"The thing he did was he pitched backwards," Charleston manager Torre Tyson said. "He threw his changeup in hitting counts and we swung at changeups in the dirt 20 times. So the changeup was outstanding. And then he pitched off his changeup, which made his fastball more effective."
Even though he hadn’t gone into many deep counts, his pitch count was high enough that Strickland said he wasn’t surprised to be taken out. He hadn’t gone more than six innings in any start with Greenville, and the Pirates didn’t want him extended beyond what his arm was used to.
Righthander Diego Moreno came in to relieve Strickland to start the top of the seventh. Moreno finished the no-hitter, pitching three perfect innings and striking out Abraham Almonte to end the game. Strickland wasn’t able to watch the end of the game, having had to retreat to the clubhouse to take care of his shoulder and ride the exercise bike, where he was greeted by jubilant teammates after the game.
Not surprisingly, Strickland has been in high demand since, including having received a number of text messages from his old teammates and coaches in Greenville.
Strickland said he’d been part of no-hitters in high school, but admitted those weren’t "anything as serious as this." Not a bad way to make a first impression on your new team.
Who Needs Hits?
Barely 24 hours after Strickland and Moreno finished their no-hitter, Triple-A Salt Lake’s Sean O’Sullivan (Angels) threw the minors’ second no-hitter in as many nights. O’Sullivan had just rejoined the Bees after making a big league start for the Angels July 21, when he beat the Royals after allowing two runs over 5 1/3 innings.
O’Sullivan headed into Tuesday’s start in Sacramento with a 5-3, 6.62 mark in 11 Triple-A starts, and hadn’t pitched beyond the seventh inning in any start all season. The game was supposed to be more noteworthy for it being California native Brett Wallace’s home debut for the River Cats after coming over in the Matt Holliday trade, but O’Sullivan stole that thunder.
O’Sullivan retired the first 18 hitters he faced before losing his perfect game with a leadoff walk in the seventh. That would be his only slip-up, as he retired the final nine hitters to finish the no-no. He ended the game with seven strikeouts and needed 122 pitches to finish the job.
As usual in any no-hitter, there were several sparkling plays behind O’Sullivan to keep the bid alive, including a diving catch by center fielder Brad Coon in the fourth and, on the last out of the game, second baseman Sean Rodriguez made a sliding stop and threw out Cliff Pennington from his knees.
"You’ve got to tip your hat," River Cats manager Tony DeFrancesco told the Sacramento Bee. "Everything was working for him. … We hit maybe two balls hard the entire night."