This day in baseball: A first for me

I’ve been attending professional baseball games since 1957, when my father took me to one at Griffith Stadium for my eighth birthday. Until tonight, I had never seen, in person, a nine-inning no-hitter.

Tonight, I saw Michael Baumann of the Bowie Baysox pitch one against the Harrisburg Senators. Bowie is the Double A farm team of the Baltimore Orioles. Harrisburg is a Washington Nationals affiliate.

I suspect that nine-inning no-hitters by one pitcher are more rare in the minor leagues than in the majors. Minor league pitchers are usually on pitch counts of 80 to 90. For most big league pitchers the limit is around 110.

This doesn’t mean a minor league starter working on a no-hitter wouldn’t be allowed to work more than 90 pitches. It means they aren’t used to working past 90, and don’t pace themselves to do so. Thus, they tend to run out of gas between 80 and 90 pitches, if not sooner. These days, with batters forcing deep counts, it’s almost impossible to retire 27 batters with 90 pitches, even in the absence of hits.

Tonight, Baumann threw 95 pitches (by my imperfect count — NOTE: the official count is 94)). He needed fewer than 10 pitches in five of his nine innings.

He relied on a fastball that registered 95 to 97 mph on the stadium’s gun. I’m told that this gun runs a mile or two too fast, so let’s say his heater was 93 to 96.

Baumann coupled it with a slider (or maybe a cutter, I couldn’t tell which) that came in at around 88-90 mph. He also mixed in some off-speed pitches, but it was mainly fastball-slider (or cutter). His command of both was outstanding. He worked the corners and kept the ball down — the tried and true formula for success.

Harrisburg never produced anything that should have been a hit. There was a bloop that the left-fielder had to make a good play on. There were a couple of deep fly balls that were always going to be outs.

The best bid for a hit came off the bat of Luis Garcia, an outstanding infield prospect for the Nats. In the first inning, he hit a ball sharply up the middle. The Bowie infield wasn’t shifted, so I thought the ball might get through. Instead, the shortstop and second baseman combined well to turn it into a double-play.

Baumann allowed only two walks — one in the first inning to leadoff batter Michael Taylor, a former major leaguer, and one in the seventh to Drew Ward, an Eastern League all-star.

Baumann struck out ten Senators, four of them in the final two innings. Indeed, he seemed to be stronger at the end of the game than at the beginning. Down the stretch, his fastball was regularly clocking 97 mph on the stadium’s slightly juiced gun.

Michael Taylor was the final out in the ninth. Major leaguer or not, he looked hopeless, as did everyone who faced Baumann in the eighth and ninth. Strike three to Taylor was a pitch on the outside corner. As soon as the ball popped into catcher’s mitt, Taylor began walking back to the dugout. I don’t think he even waited for the umpire’s call.

Is Baumann a big league prospect? MLB.com rates him the 24th best prospect in the Orioles organization. Players ranked that low usually don’t make the majors.

However, Baumann’s ranking seems too low. On Sunday, I saw Baltimore’s number #11 prospect, Brenan Hanifee, pitch for Frederick, one level down from Bowie. Hanifee was excellent, but I don’t think he has anything on Baumann. He’s two years younger, but is pitching at a lower level and his velocity doesn’t match Baumann’s. (Hanifee was drafted in the fourth round out of high school in 2016; Baumann went in the third round out of college a year later).

Since his move from Frederick to Bowie, Baumann has pitched 27 innings to an ERA of 0.33. He has struck out 32, walked 8, and given up only 10 hits. Baumann’s #24 rating predates this.

Most of the minor league games I attend involve Washington Nationals farm teams. However, these days I’m taking a serious interest in Orioles affiliates.

The reason is that Mike Elias now runs the Orioles. He’s the whiz kid whose work in Houston was instrumental in the Astros’ rise from worst team in major league baseball to world champions. The Astros accomplished this mainly through shrewd drafting, excellent signings in Latin America, and outstanding player development.

Now, Elias is trying to do the same thing for Baltimore, currently the worst team in major league baseball. With most of the Orioles farm teams located within an hour or two of my house, I have the opportunity to watch this process unfold.

Tonight, as a bonus, I got to see my first nine-inning no-hitter.

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