Skulina, Cougars no-hit River Bandits
Tyler Skulina made a mental note after his first start of the season, and it came in handy on Saturday night when he faced the same opponent.
"In the first series of the year, I think I got through six innings on 61 pitches," the Cubs' 18th-ranked prospect said. "I remembered those hitters like early contact and I had it in my head to go out and pitch to contact, pound the zone."
In his second crack at Class A Quad Cities, Skulina pitched 7 1/3 innings and combined with Nathan Dorris on the eighth no-hitter in team history as Kane County blanked the River Bandits, 3-0, at Fifth Third Bank Ballpark.
The no-hitter came almost exactly three years after Sugar Ray Marimon and Chas Byrne pitched one against Cedar Rapids.
"It was pretty surreal," said Skulina, who walked two batters, hit one and struck out five. "It was about the sixth inning when I figured my pitch count must be getting up there. [Pitching coach David] Rosario kept asking how I was doing and I said, 'I'm doing well.' And that was amazing, the fact that Dorris was able to come in and finish it."
The Kent State product ended up throwing 95 pitches. Thanks to a bit of confusion, that was three more than Cubs Minor League pitching coordinator Derek Johnson would have liked. Rosario texted Johnson after the seventh to ask if Skulina could continue but misinterpreted the reply.
"They said, 'If he has a clean inning with 10 pitches or less,' but that was for the previous inning," Skulina explained. "It all worked out in the end -- no harm done."
Skulina (2-1) warmed up and threw three pitches to retire the leadoff man in the eighth before the Kane County coaching staff figured out the mistake and manager Mark Johnson went to his bullpen.
The beginning of Skulina's evening was more turbulent than the end. In the second inning, he plunked Conrad Gregor, who took second on a passed ball. The 22-year-old right-hander got out of the inning unscathed by getting a popout and two groundouts.
"Me and Rosario have been talking a lot the last few weeks. I've had good outings, where I throw three or four shutout innings, then one big inning affects me," Skulina said.
The Ohio native was determined not to let the second become one of those big innings.
"I sort of said, 'Put it behind you, you can't do anything about it now. Control what you can control.' I went back to making pitches and let the defense do its job. They were great tonight."
Skulina walked a tightrope again in the fourth, issuing a leadoff walk to Chan Moon and a one-out free pass to Gregor. Cougars catcher Will Remillard fired down to first to pick off Gregor and Skulina ended the frame with a punchout.
"[Remillard] came out to the mound after second batter and said, 'We're going to have a fastball outside here and I'm going to pick the guy off first,' and he did just that," Skulina said. "It was pretty amazing. He knows the team pretty well and he checks out their leads every time somebody is on. He does a great job."
The Cougars starter was perfect thereafter.
Skulina, a 2013 fourth-round Draft pick, had not previously gone deeper than the sixth innings he threw in his first start against the River Bandits. He admitted to being slightly fatigued when he went out for the eighth.
"I was a little bit, but I had some adrenaline going," he said. "I was sticking to the same plan, going to keep letting them get themselves out."
When Johnson explained the confusion to Skulina, Skulina laughed and enjoyed watching Dorris, who retired all five batters he faced for his second save.
"I was more excited than nervous because he's got nerves of steel," Skulina said. "He went out there and just pounded the zone."
Skulina pitched with a lead almost all night after Jacob Hannemann drew a leadoff walk in the bottom of the first and scored on Carlos Penalver's single. Hannemann added a sacrifice fly in the fifth.
Josh Jackson is a contributor to MiLB.com.