It was quite the weekend for a couple Toronto Blue Jays prospects.
In the second game of a doubleheader last year, Trent Palmer threw Dunedin’s first seven inning no-hitter in 42 years, striking out 10 Fort Myers batters on a relatively economical 92 pitches. The wait the next one wasn’t even 42 days, as Palmer turned the trick again in his last start of the season on September 15th against Clearwater, this time striking out 9 batters.
It didn’t take long (ignoring the winter layoff) for Palmer to make it a trifecta of gems, and good measure he one-upped himself Sunday against Hillsboro by throwing six perfect innings. This was a regular nine inning game, and being early in the season there was no prospect of him being allowed to go he distance, so this time he wasn’t able to complete the job.
Nonetheless, in my books it was easily the most dominant of the three. Palmer only needed 72 pitches over six innings, so it was somewhat surprising that he wasn’t given a 7th inning but it probably had more to do with getting Alejandro Melean scheduled innings. 50 of those went for strikes (69%) in the course of striking out eight batters. Palmer got 11 swinging strikes on 36 swings, a good but not overwhelming 30% rate.
Rather, beyond being totally in control and not issuing any free passes, it was the contact allowed that underlined the dominance. Whereas in the two actual no-nos last year, there were multiple instances of good contact that found gloves and frankly both were the result of significant luck, there was almost none yesterday. Of the 10 balls in play, six were completely routine groundballs, two were pop-ups on the infield, so only two balls even made it to the outfield.
One was a can of corn fly ball on the first pitch, but there was one good piece of contact. Leading off the 6th inning, Spencer Brickhouse lined an 0-2, but right to centre where it was fairly easily caught. That was the only thing close to a blemish on the entire outing. Per readings from the stadium, his fastball sat as usual in the low-90s, touching 93. The splitter and slider were both working for him.
Once Palmer departed, the perfect game was not to last long, as reliever Melean walked the first batter he saw, making his first outing of the season coming off the IL. In turn, the no-hitter lasted just a pitch beyond that, as the next hitter tapped an infield single on the first pitch that shortstop Addison Barger had no chance of turning into that out. But Vancouver got out of the inning with a soft liner double play (ironically on some of the day’s better contact allowed), and the Hops went in order in the last two innings to preserve the shutout.
But that was not the only perfect outing in the system over the weekend.
After dominating Bradenton to start the season in his pro debut, Ricky Tiedemann improbably managed an even better encore facing them a second time Friday night.
Tiedemann retired 15 straight batters over his five innings, with nine strikeouts. After the first batter of the game flared out weakly to second, the next eight in a row went down on strikes (six swinging and two looking). Batters were a little more successful the second time through, in the sense that first five putting the day in play. Here too, there was one instance of good contact, a line drive right to the shortstop by Pirates prospect Tsung-Che Cheng, but the others were three weak ground balls and a routine fly out. He then struck out the last batter he saw.
Tiedemann was flat out dominant. He only needed 57 pitches (41 strikes), getting ahead of 12 of 15 batters while only getting into a three ball count once. That’s not even the most ridiculous part. Bradenton batters took 30 swings, with 18 of them coming up empty for a stunning 60% whiff rate (six were fouled, with six more in play).
Tiedemann’s fastball sat comfortably in the mid-90s, touching a couple 97s early. He used essentially two breaking balls effectively, a slider in the mid-80s and a slower curve version in the 79-81 range. He was mixing in the change-up early but it was more of a show-me quality pitch, the one thing he didn’t really have working (and he didn’t need it).
For the season, Tiedemann’s line sits at a 0.90 ERA in 20 innings, with just 5 hits allowed and 33 strikeouts against 10 walks. If you want to nitpick, the walk rate is a little high...but everything else is stellar. It’s a huge up arrow even given the preseason hype he was receiving, and really the only question at this point is how long he stays in Dunedin. My guess would be another month to wait out the wet Pacific Northwest spring weather, and then he’ll off to the more temperate confines of Nat Bailey.
Here too, the perfect game didn’t much outlast Tiedemann, as reliever Jimmy Robbins walked the second batter he faced, and then gave up a pair of hard line drive singles opening his second inning of work. But the shutout was preserved in a 7-0 win.
Finally, it didn’t happen on the weekend but one more pitching prospect very much bears mentioning. Yosver Zulueta made his long-awaited debut for Dunedin the day before Tiedemann’s gem and happily, his 2022 season debut lasted a little longer than two pitches, In fact he dominated over 4 shutout innings, allowing just a hit and walk against seven strikeouts.
Zulueta also brought top notch gas, sitting 94-97 throughout the five innings and topping out with a 99 (technically 98.6) in the second inning. He also leaned heavily on two breaking balls, the slower curve generally in the 78-81 range and a harder slider in the 84-86 range. The two did sort of run together at times into more of a slurve in the 82-84 range. He also mixed in about a half dozen change-ups, mostly in bunches here in there, getting a couple whiffs and flashing promise.
Zulueta jumped ahead of 10 of 14 batters, and induced 14 swinging strikes on 24 swings for an also ludicrous 58% whiff rate. He also managed contact exceptionally well, as the lone hit came on a ground ball up the middle. Really only one ball was squared up reasonably well off him, a short line drive (“gliner”) speared by the first baseman.
The biggest thing for Zulueta will be staying healthy and building innings, but too too will be fun to track.