Wednesday, April 9, 2008

good lookin' prospect...

Pitch count all that stops Hacker
Right-hander works seven perfect innings in Yankees' 1-0 victory
By Shane Figueroa / Special to

Eric Hacker combined to go 12-5 with a 3.64 ERA in 27 games at three levels last season. (Mark Lomoglio)

The only way to pitch better than Eric Hacker did on Tuesday night is to get six more outs.
Hacker retired all 21 batters he faced before reaching his pitch count as the Tampa Yankees posted a 1-0, 10-inning victory over the Dunedin Blue Jays at Steinbrenner Field.

A 25-year-old right-hander who combined for 13 wins at three Minor League levels last season, Hacker was in complete control. He needed only 78 pitches to get through seven innings.

"Stuff-wise, I felt great," Hacker said. "I had command of all four pitches in the strike zone and could drop a slider or curveball down if I needed to. Mostly, it was the guys behind me making plays. There were more than a few ground balls that could have been hits."

The former 23rd-round draft pick struck out six and induced 11 ground-ball outs. Second baseman Chris Kunda made a nifty backhanded play up the middle in the fourth inning, when he assisted on all three putouts.

"Chris was quick on his feet there," Hacker said. "I thought it was a hit, but he made a quick transition from his glove to the throw and got us an out. You always need plays like that to take a no-hitter or perfect game that far."

Hacker worked quickly, retiring the first two Blue Jays on a groundout and popout before catching Travis Snider looking at a third strike. He fanned two more in the second before producing seven straight ground-ball outs, a pop-up and another called third strike.

Hacker caught Jesus Gonzales looking at strike three in the sixth, which ended with another groundout, then retired the first two batters in the seventh on grounders. He punctuated his night by fanning Snider,'s No. 15. prospect, for the second time.

"I'm pretty sure I had at least one strikeout with every kind of pitch I throw," Hacked said. "Everything was sharp, and [catcher Kyle] Anson knows these hitters pretty well. He's great with recognizing hitting patterns, and we got along well tonight. It was rare for me to turn down one of his signals."

It was the longest Hacker had taken a perfect game or no-hitter in his career, though he held Columbus hitless into the seventh for Class A Charleston last July 11 and pitched five perfect frames against Augusta on Aug. 17.

The Blue Jays ended the Yankees' bid for perfection in the eighth as Brian Dopirak and Paul Franko ripped consecutive one-out singles off rehabbing Major Leaguer Sean Henn.

That was no disappointment for Hacker, who missed the entire 2006 season following surgery on his pitching shoulder. For him, the most enjoyable part is simply being on the mound at full strength.

"It's a great feeling to just rear back and throw it," he explained. "I took it easy last year until around midseason, but I feel like I'm back in a groove now."

Despite Hacker's perfect night, the Yankees needed extra innings to even their record at 3-3.

Kunda singled to open the 10th and was sacrificed to second by Tim Battle. After Mitch Hilligoss was intentionally walked, Edwar Gonzalez sent a liner to left that scored Kunda with the game's only run.

Jonathan Hovis (1-0) struck out one in a perfect 10th for the victory.

"It was a great win for us," Hacker said. "It's always nice to win the one-run battles or the extra-inning battles. Hopefully, this gets us going."

Reliever Connor Falkenbach (0-1) was charged with one run on two hits and two walks in two innings for Dunedin (4-2).