Iowa Cubs left-hander Chris Rusin didn’t blow away the New Orleans Zephyrs with double-digit strikeouts in the teams’ Pacific Coast League game Wednesday at Zephyr Field.
However, Rusin befuddled them with his sinker in notching the first no-hitter by an opposing pitcher in the 18-year history of the stadium, as Iowa won 3-0.
“I just pounded the strike zone with my two-seamer, and I was going to throw it until they adjusted,” said Rusin (2-4), who has been up and down with the parent Chicago Cubs the past two seasons. “It’s my first no-hitter that I can remember, since Little League.”
It was the second no-hitter at Zephyr Field, the first coming on May 6, 2001, by the Zephyrs’ Brian Powell against Omaha.
The Zephyrs had been swinging the bats well of late.
“He really mixed and matched both sides of the plate, up and down,” Zephyrs manager Andy Haines said. “We didn’t get a lot of good swings at him; there weren’t a lot of hard-hit outs.”
Rusin struck out just three and walked two. However, he induced 16 ground outs, including three double plays, and six lazy fly balls.
“The guys played great in the field, which is what you have to have to throw a no-hitter,” Rusin said. “There were three great plays that easily could have been hits.”
The last one provided the final out in the bottom of the ninth inning, preserving the gem. With Iowa’s outfielders playing deep, Zephyrs second baseman Josh Rodriguez hit a fly to shallow center field. Iowa’s Matt Szczur came charging hard, finally making a diving catch.
“It thought it might be a hit,” Rusin said. “It wasn’t well hit, but Matt is fast. I looked at the ball, then I’d look at Matt. Looked at the ball, then looked at Matt. And he made the catch.”
With one out in the fourth, the Zephyrs’ Mark Canha hit a hard grounder well behind third base that hugged the line. Christian Villanueva, considered Iowa’s second-best young prospect, nabbed it and fired the long throw to first, just beating Canha.
In the sixth, Zephyrs pinch-hitter Jake Marisnick grounded hard up the middle, and the ball took a high hop. However, shortstop Javier Baez showed in part why he is considered the Chicago Cubs’ top prospect. He leaped high, fielded the ball and threw out Marisnick for the second out.
Another pearl came in the seventh. Rodriguez had walked and was on first with one out when Justin Bour, the Zephyrs’ best hitter, smashed a shot down the first-base line. Iowa’s Lars Anderson backhanded the ball and threw to second to get Rodriguez. Baez then threw to Rusin covering first for the double play.
Iowa manager Marty Pevey said a key to the mound performance was the Cubs’ three-run second inning. That, in large part, was Rusin’s doing, too. A passed ball by Zephyrs catcher Kyle Skipworth had enabled Josh Vitters to score from third.
Walks to Brett Jackson and Luis Flores loaded the bases, and Rusin lined a single to left, bringing in Villanueva, who had advanced to third on the passed ball, and Jackson.
“It relaxed (Rusin) and just galvanized the team,” Pevey said.
Rusin also singled in the fourth, going 2-for-4.
“I was able to get some pitches to hit,” said Rusin, who is batting .300 this season. “Obviously the single in the second was big.”
Rusin, who is basically Chicago’s sixth starter after its five-man rotation, has made 20 appearances, all starts, the past two seasons in the majors, going 4-9.