LAWRENCEVILLE – Mike Minor definitely showed on Sunday that he is ready to return to the Atlanta rotation when needed this weekend in Houston.
The former first-round draft choice flirted with both a perfect game and a no-hitter for the Gwinnett Braves against Buffalo before settling for a one-hitter over eight scoreless innings.
It got a little dicey in the ninth inning after Minor left, but the G-Braves hung on for the 7-5 victory to get back to .500 at 28-28 and the left-hander will make his next start for Atlanta against the Astros.
“That the best I’ve felt and obviously the results were there,” Minor said. “I had command of all three of my pitches.”
The former Vanderbilt standout was so in control that he needed just 60 pitches over his six perfect innings and only 14 of those pitches were balls.
The perfect game ended quickly in the seventh, though, as Luis Figueroa drew a leadoff walk on four pitches. Minor came back to strike out Kirk Nieuwenhuis, but Valentino Pascucci then dunked a broken-bat single into left field to break up the no-hitter as well.
Stefan Gartrell couldn’t quite come in fast enough to make the catch and his throw to second base was too late to get a force on Figueroa, who had held up in case the ball was caught.
“I don’t think I’ve ever gone that long without allowing a base runner,” Minor said.
It was Minor’s first start back for Gwinnett after filling in with Atlanta twice during May in the absence of Brandon Beachy, who may miss all of June.
A fifth starter is needed again in Houston this weekend and Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez told Minor that he was first in line for the opening. He wanted it known that nothing was guaranteed, though.
Minor knew that Gonzalez and the Braves would be checking how he pitched Sunday for the G-Braves.
“He said don’t take [this start] lightly and I didn’t,” Minor said.
Buffalo didn’t come close to a hit except for Pascucci’s broken-bat bloop off a 2-and-1 fastball. Minor ended the inning with a strikeout and grounder, then retired the Bisons in order in the eighth inning before leaving. Of his 99 pitches, 66 were strikes.
Minor, who is 3-2 with a 2.23 ERA in nine starts for the G-Braves, has struggled with his breaking ball this year and he worked on blending his curve and slider late this week.
“It’s like a slurve now and it worked pretty well,” said Minor, who estimated he threw the pitch more than 30 percent of the time. “I started off a lot of guys with it and I mixed it in on the others.”
While Minor was mowing the Bisons down, the G-Braves bats were coming alive. Brandon Hicks hit two homers and drove in five runs, while Stefan Gartrell hit his third homer in two games.
Ahead 7-0 when Minor left, Gwinnett needed the cushion after Jose Lugo failed to retire a batter in ninth inning. Jairo Ascencio had to come in for the save and Raul Chavez represented the lead run before he hit into a double play to end the game.
The story, though, was Minor’s outing. Next up for him is the Astros in Houston this weekend.
Did he feel any extra pressure to do well on Sunday so he wouldn’t miss that opportunity?
“I’m beyond that,” Minor said. “I don’t put pressure on myself anymore. I did that in spring training.”