In 8th MLB start, Astros righty Ronel Blanco fires 1st no-no of '24

April 2nd, 2024

HOUSTON -- Amid the commotion that typically follows a no-hitter, ’s mother made her way through the excited crowd and to the front row of the seats above the Astros’ dugout, trying to get her son’s attention. That wasn’t easy to do, considering everybody on the field was giving him hugs and high-fives at every turn.

The 30-year-old right-hander eventually locked eyes on mom and motioned for her to come to the field, where they shared an embrace that meant more than anyone would ever know. After all, Blanco was working part-time at a car wash in 2016 in his native Dominican Republic to help support his mother, Maria, when he was signed by the Astros.

Blanco -- a former infielder who switched to pitching at 18 years old and visited several academies in the Dominican Republic before the Astros eventually signed him for $5,000 -- pitched the game of his life on Monday night at Minute Maid Park. He threw the 17th no-hitter in franchise history in a 10-0 win over the Blue Jays, walking two batters and striking out seven.

“It’s been a very long road traveled for me, a lot of ups and downs -- a lot of falls and me getting back up,” Blanco said through an interpreter. “But I think all of that has been worth it for me to be able to get to this moment.”

Blanco, making only his eighth Major League start, wouldn’t have been in the Astros’ rotation to begin the year had it not been for injuries to Justin Verlander and José Urquidy. He was told last week by manager Joe Espada that he had won the final spot in the rotation -- on the same day he and his wife welcomed their second child.

“Just resiliency,” Espada said of what makes Blanco special. “This guy, his story is fantastic. The way we signed him from the D.R., it’s a pretty remarkable story. His journey, he’s in front of his family. His mom is here, and to do that in front of the people that love him and support him, it makes it even that much more special.”

Blanco walked the first batter he faced before sending down 26 Blue Jays in a row. A two-out walk to George Springer in the ninth prompted Espada to get a reliever to warm up and catcher Yainer Diaz to stroll to the mound for a breather. Blanco got Vladimir Guerrero Jr. to ground out to second base on his 105th pitch to polish off the first no-hitter of the 2024 season.

“Impressive performance,” said Espada, who picked up his first career win on Monday. “We needed that, and Blanco stepped up and gave us an incredible start and performance. His changeup, changing speeds -- it’s a pretty good lineup over there. What a week he’s had. Happy for him and his family.”

Blanco threw 36 changeups, 34 sliders, 31 fastballs and four curveballs, but it was the changeup that carried him through the game. He generated 59 swings in the game, including 20 whiffs -- half of which came on his changeup. He hit 95.1 mph with his fastball.

“I felt like he had his slider going really well and that’s why he had so much success,” Blue Jays third baseman Isiah Kiner-Falefa said. “He was able to blend the four-seam/slider, and I think the one thing we weren’t prepared for was the changeup. He busted out a changeup that he’s never really used before. That caught us off guard a little bit and he was able to make pitches in big spots. Hats off to him.”

The no-hitter was the first for the Astros since Framber Valdez threw a 93-pitch no-no against the Guardians on Aug. 1, 2023, at Minute Maid Park. Houston’s 17 no-hitters are the most by any of MLB’s expansion teams that have been added since 1961.

The first out of the eighth inning was a hairy one for Blanco, who deflected a grounder off the bat of catcher Alejandro Kirk and watched it roll towards second base. Mauricio Dubón, a Gold Glove winner who had just entered the game for Jose Altuve, threw out the slow-footed Kirk at first base.

“It helped us that the runner was somebody who wasn’t very fast and thankfully we were able to complete the play, but I think in life when something was meant to happen, it was meant to happen,” first baseman José Abreu said through an interpreter. “And today was Ronel’s day. I’m very happy for that.”

Blanco's no-hitter was saved in the ninth on an outstanding play by Abreu, who made a diving backhanded grab on Cavan Biggio's grounder and threw from his backside to Blanco for the second out of the inning. On the final out, Blanco initially tried to field Guerrero’s chopper that passed the mound, but he decided to let Dubón handle it.

“When the ball was hit, I was going to try to get my glove in the way as well, and then I remembered that play previously [in the eighth] and pulled the glove back,” Blanco said. “But then after Dubón fielded that ball, I just waited for the play to happen.”

Diaz, who became the first catcher since at least 1901 to catch a no-hitter and hit multiple home runs in the same game, said he started thinking about the no-hitter in the seventh inning.

“I was very nervous and anxious the whole time,” Diaz said through an interpreter. “When we got to the last moment, I took a breather and put it all in God’s hands that if I called the correct pitches we talked about and he executed, it wasn’t going to be an issue.”

The Astros, who were swept in four games by the Yankees to start the season, came alive at the plate and bashed five home runs, including two each by Kyle Tucker and Diaz. Jeremy Peña hit a solo homer in the second inning that snapped a 293-at-bat home run drought. It was his first since July 5 of last year.

But this night was about Blanco.

“I’m just so happy he went out and did that,” Peña said. “He’s such a hard worker. He’s quiet, a hard worker that goes about his business and goes out and competes. He had a daughter not too long ago and I know it’s a special moment for him.”