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Change in mechanics led to Northcraft's no-hitter

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Posted: Saturday, June 23, 2012 11:54 pm | Updated: 2:37 pm, Mon Feb 18, 2013.

Aaron Northcraft was passing the time Friday by playing a little “MLB The Show” for the XBox 360, and strangely enough, he was throwing a no-hitter. The no-no eventually was broken up, but it got Northcraft thinking. He said those thoughts out loud when he talked to his father later in the day. “I said, ‘Dad, I want to throw a no-hitter,’” Northcraft said Saturday afternoon. “He said, ‘two or three hits and a shutout, I’m OK with that.’ So it’s pretty bizarre that I randomly said I wanted to throw a no-hitter, and then it happened.” Northcraft was still soaking in the reality of his feat on Saturday, a good 14 hours after he threw a seven-inning no-no against Salem, the first individual no-hitter in the 17-year history of the Hillcats franchise. The 22-year-old had never thrown a shutout and only had one complete game in his career prior to Friday night’s start, one that was delayed a good 30 minutes because the first game of the doubleheader went four extra innings. Northcraft admitted he was a bundle of nervous energy. “I was throwing the ball against the wall, trying to hit a spot,” he said. “I was swinging the bat. I was doing everything I could to keep my mind off things.” No one can foresee a no-hitter coming, but there were signs in Northcraft’s recent efforts that he was capable of the accomplishment. He got rocked in consecutive starts on May 24 and 30, allowing 18 hits and 13 earned runs in a combined 9 1/3 innings. The second outing dropped him to 4-4 on the season with a 4.50 ERA, and pitching coach Derek Botelho encouraged Northcraft to make a change. Northcraft used to set up with his lead foot on the far right side of the rubber. Because he’d fall away on his delivery, he struggled to throw his fastball and sinker for strikes. And when those pitches did find the zone, they were often hit. Hard. So Botelho had Northcraft move to the left side of the rubber and begin pitching out of a full windup. “That’s an old-school thing, righties on the right, lefties on the left,” Botelho said. “Some guys, because of the movement of their pitches, because of their line to the plate, they can’t allow that to happen. Now they’re throwing across their body and they’re working side to side. Now, it’s an effort to throw the ball in the zone. “Moving on the other side, now their line is a true line going to the middle of the plate. The arm works a lot freer and easier.” In the three starts leading up to the no-hitter, Northcraft pitched 19 innings, allowed 12 hits and just three earned runs. The adjustments certainly proved to work. After Friday’s start, Northcraft improved to 7-4 and his ERA dropped to 3.38. As is the case with most impending no-hitters, Northcraft’s teammates didn’t say much to him in the dugout. They were certainly aware of what was happening, however. Shortstop Nick Ahmed said that outfielder Mycal Jones nudged him in the fifth inning and pointed to the scoreboard. They didn’t need to say anything. Ahmed made what Botelho called “two major league plays” at short in the sixth inning, preserving the no-no. Northcraft is a sinkerball pitcher who lives on inducing ground balls, so Ahmed was focused and ready when two hard-hit balls came his way deep in the hole at short. He made both plays by a step, getting Heiker Meneses by a step for the second out. “It was pretty exciting,” Ahmed said. “It was cool to be a part of, and the last few innings were pretty intense. We didn’t have to do a whole lot of work. He was keeping guys off balance really well. … I can’t remember them hitting more than one or two balls hard the whole game.” The only jittery moment came in the third inning, when Botelho, manager Luis Salazar and athletic trainer Ty Cobbs had to visit the mound. Northcraft wasn’t injured. But a small bug had flown into his eye and lodged itself underneath one of his contact lenses, leaving his vision watery and momentarily blurred. The obstruction cleared, Northcraft got back to work. He allowed just four baserunners: two via walk, one hit batsman and one on an infield error. Northcraft struck out a season-high 10 batters. “In the third inning, [catcher] Chad Comer came up to me in the dugout and said, ‘Bo, he has got a filthy sinker right now. The stuff coming out of his hand right now is the best I’ve ever seen from him. I mean, it is ugly,’” Botelho said. “And he just carried it. … I mean, he’s got a sinker right now that I compare to Huddy [Tim Hudson] in the big leagues. “Talking to [Braeden] Schlehuber, he’s caught Hudson in spring training many times. And he says, ‘Bo, he’s got as much, if not more, movement than Huddy has. It’s impressive.” After the game, Northcraft called his father but only spoke to him for about five minutes because his phone was running out of juice. After a celebratory meal at the Fort Avenue Waffle House, one of the team’s favorite hangouts, Northcraft returned home to a charged phone and another chance to relive the night with his dad. Said Northcraft: “I’m still in a little shock, actually. I didn’t expect it. This is the most media stuff that I’ve done ever. I’m not quite used to it. But it’s fun.”


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