Cubs farmhand Jokisch tosses no-hitter
CHICAGO -- Eric Jokisch wasn't sure how he'd feel on Tuesday in his first start since being sidelined with fatigue in his arm. Double-A Tennessee teammate Dallas Beeler gave him a pep talk in the bullpen.
"I was throwing in the bullpen, and he's like, 'Yeah, Eric, that's a great pitch,'" Jokisch said of Beeler. "He was a little obnoxious about it, but it was fun. He's great at pumping people up."
Beeler did extremely well. On Tuesday night, in Jokisch's first game back from the disabled list, the left-hander threw a no-hitter in Tennessee's 10-0 win over Jacksonville.
It's the first nine-inning no-hitter for the Smokies since Leo Estrella did it against Orlando in 2000. Mark Holliman threw the last no-no for Tennessee, but that was a seven-inning game in 2007.
Jokisch, 24, who had not pitched since July 28, struck out eight and walked four, throwing 108 pitches. He had been sidelined in order to rest and strengthen the shoulder. Give athletic trainer Scott Barringer an assist, Jokisch said.
"I have this recurring spasm underneath my [scapula] in the back of my shoulder blade," Jokisch said by phone on Wednesday. "It had been bothering me for four or five starts, and it wasn't anything major, but something that needed to be addressed. We did some unique [exercises] that did the trick so far."
The Smokies helped by scoring three runs in the first inning.
"My goal going out there was to keep it close and give ourselves a chance to break [Jacksonville's winning] streak and get a win, and three runs right off the bat helped that," Jokisch said.
Jokisch struck out the side in the second, and the first baserunner he allowed came on a walk with one out in the fourth. He would walk one batter in each of the final three innings, but escaped.
In the ninth, third baseman Christian Villanueva made a great catch on a line drive, then shortstop Javier Baez snared a ball headed for center. After a walk, Jokisch got the final batter to ground out to Villanueva, and was then mobbed on the field by his teammates.
"I went out for [the ninth] inning, just telling myself to enjoy the moment and whatever happens, happens," Jokisch said. "All three of [the plays in the ninth] I thought could've been hits. Villanueva and Baez made unbelievable plays. I can't commend them enough. It really made for a great night."
His teammates were well aware of what was happening.
"During the game, it was kind of funny, because nobody was really talking to me," Jokisch said. "The only time I talked to anybody was when I was coming up to hit, and there were a few jokes made about hitting with [pitching coach Jeff Fassero] and [hitting coach] Desi Wilson. Other than that, there wasn't much said."
Wilson had been razzing Jokisch about not contributing at the plate. Not only did the lefty notch the no-hitter, but also picked up his first RBIs.
"Getting to hit and being on the basepaths took my mind off the game and pitching, and it was a nice little break from sitting on the bench and thinking about it," Jokisch said.
But no one, not Fassero or Wilson or even Beeler, said anything about what was going on in the game.
"[Infielder] Rubi Silva came up and sat next to me one time, and said, 'Are you sitting in the right spot? Are you sitting in the normal spot?'" Jokisch said. "I'm like, 'Yeah, man, I'm good right here.' He's like, 'Are you OK? Everything good here?'
"It was kind of lonely sitting on the bench by myself. After the game, everyone talked about how they were trying to sit in the same spot and do the same things. It's cool to have everyone on the team behind you like that."
Jokisch did try to stick to the same routine, and thought he'd jinxed himself at one point.
"Before I went out to the field in the eighth inning, I dropped my glove," Jokisch said. "I thought, 'Uh oh, that's a bad omen.' There were times when I thought, 'Uh, Eric, you screwed up your normal routine.' But it all worked out for the best."
The Cubs' 11th-round Draft pick out of Northwestern in 2010, Jokisch threw a couple of no-hitters in high school growing up in Virginia, Ill., a small town much closer to Cardinals country than Chicago. He began to get noticed by colleges after he struck out 21 and didn't walk a batter in a seven-inning game in the 2006 regional semifinals. He was invited to a showcase, and struck out seven of the nine batters he faced, which prompted Northwestern to call.
"Everything kind of happened after that [21-K game]," Jokisch said. "It's been a wild ride."
He now has an extra gear bag stuffed with souvenirs from Tuesday's game, which he came close to not finishing. The Cubs try to keep the Minor League starters to no more than 105 pitches, but the Smokies relievers weren't going to let anyone else in.
"The bullpen was talking to me, and Jeff Fassero was trying to get [Zach] Rosscup ready in case something happened, and [the relievers] were saying they weren't going to let him come in the game," Jokisch said, laughing.
Speaking of rides, Jokisch didn't sleep much Tuesday night as the Smokies rumbled home on the bus. He'd wake up every 30 minutes or so and go over the game again in his head.
"The long bus trip home from Jacksonville was as easy as it could've been," Jokisch said. "The last 20 minutes, 8 o'clock [Wednesday] morning, I was sitting there, thinking about what actually happened and how cool it was to have everybody behind you like that. It's obviously a moment I'll never forget."
He's not upset at Beeler for the good-natured teasing, either.
"He was trying to make me feel good about myself," Jokisch said. "I'm throwing good pitches, and it's like, 'Nice, good pitch, good pitch.' It really does help. You don't think it would, and kind of think it's funny, but it makes you feel you can do about anything."
Like throw a no-hitter.