Prospect Small, relievers combine for no-no

May 16th, 2021

The Brewers’ top pitching prospect found his pitching coach in the dugout. had just emptied the tank to get a strikeout with his 90th and final pitch on Saturday night in Double-A Biloxi, stranding another baserunner on a night full of them.

“I missed that,” Small said.

“What are you talking about?” Nick Childs asked.

“Running out of gas toward the end of a start -- and you just bear down and you get the last punchout and know your day is done,” Small replied. “That's just a great feeling that you cannot replicate, no matter how many big leaguers you face in a sim game. It just doesn't feel the same. I'm glad we all get to do it again and enjoy it.”

The night was about to get even better.

Relievers Zach Vennaro, Nathan Kirby and Matt Hardy -- not to mention catcher Payton Henry -- teamed with Small to produce the first nine-inning no-no in Shuckers history, a 1-0 win over the Mississippi Braves in front of a sellout crowd.

Without a signature defensive highlight, and with so much action on the basepaths as the result of eight walks and a hit batsman, Small said there were players in the dugout who didn’t realize the history they’d just witnessed until Hardy secured the final out with a called strike three.

But Small knew. After striking out Braves No. 26 prospect Justin Dean to strand a runner at second base to end a fifth inning in which Small walked two batters -- his fourth and fifth free passes of the game -- and threw a wild pitch, he remained in the dugout to watch Vennaro “throwing jet fuel” for the sixth. Small was in the clubhouse getting his arm treatment while Kirby, back in action this year after being sidelined the past two years by arm injuries, fired slider after “disgusting” slider past M-Braves hitters for two innings, then was back in the dugout to watch Hardy pitch the ninth.

It was the sort of stuff Small, Milwaukee’s No. 4 prospect according to MLB Pipeline, and top-ranked pitcher, missed last year. The coronavirus pandemic wiped out the Minor League season and sent the former Mississippi State star, drafted by the Brewers in the first round in 2019, to the Alternate Training Site in Appleton, Wis.

Now, Small gets to really compete again.

“He’s real deceptive,” said Brewers ace and fellow Mississippi State product Brandon Woodruff. “He’s got that riding fastball that’s not high 90s, but he knows how to use it. He knows how to use his off-speed. … I think the thing for him, as with any pitcher, is just throwing it up and kind of maneuvering your way around a lineup and trying to figure out how to use your stuff. That’s obviously a pretty good sign last night.”

How does Small feel about the way he’s throwing the ball?

“I think I definitely have some improving to do -- and I don't know that I'll ever feel differently,” he said. “I mean, there's five walks in there [Saturday]. Obviously, I'd like to cut that out even though some of them were a little tactical. The zone was a little tight, but I will say this, it was consistent so we knew we were going to get. Probably cutting that stuff down, and then continuing to develop the breaking stuff. I've got to be a little bit better with that.

“But that’s why I’m here.”

Biloxi is about four hours from Small’s old haunts in Starkville, Miss., close enough that he hears a Mississippi State story most every day he interacts with fans. Small enjoys the connection and said he hasn’t looked ahead to a promotion to Triple-A Nashville -- or beyond to Milwaukee. Because he didn’t get his pro career started until the second half of 2019, then lost ’20 to the pandemic, Saturday was only his ninth professional start.

It was certainly memorable. Small had never been part of a no-hitter before.

“I go out to the right-field line talk to my wife and her family and my family after the game, and then somebody comes and gets me and said, 'Hey, you've got to be in here for this,'” Small said. “I went in and there's beer cans getting handed out and we have to go in the shower and it was just a big time beer shower. I didn't know I could get so wet from only four beers.”