Arizona’s Tyler Gilbert throws no-hitter in first career start
By Benjamin Hoffman
Tyler Gilbert had a lot of firsts come in one game. The rookie left-hander for the Arizona Diamondbacks had his first start, his first complete game, his first shutout and his first no-hitter all wrapped into one, blanking the San Diego Padres with a 7-0 gem Saturday.
In a season in which no-hitters have come at a rate unseen in major league history — the eight so far are a modern record and have tied the 1884 season for the most overall — Gilbert’s masterpiece was by far the most unexpected. He came into the game with just 3 2/3 innings pitched at the major league level and left it having kept his cool for 102 pitches, striking out five and walking three in nine scoreless innings.
“Crazy,” Gilbert told reporters after the game. “It’s not going to hit me for probably another day. I don’t know what just happened.”
Gilbert, 27, is the 15th pitcher to make a start for Arizona this season, extending a franchise record. And he is only the fourth player in major league history to throw a no-hitter in his first start. The others were Bobo Holloman for the St. Louis Browns on May 6, 1953, Bumpus Jones of the Cincinnati Reds on Oct. 15, 1892, and Theodore Breitenstein for the Browns on Oct. 4, 1891.
The surge of no-hitters this season has raised questions about why these seem to be occurring at such an extraordinary rate.
Who has thrown a no-hitter this season?
— Joe Musgrove, San Diego Padres (April 9 vs. Texas Rangers): In throwing the first no-hitter in his franchise’s long history, Musgrove allowed only one base runner, on a hit-by-pitch. He threw 112 pitches, but manager Jayce Tingler was determined to let him see it through. “He was in control,” Tingler said. “After the seventh inning, that’s when we kind of put all the chips in. For Joe, for the team, for the organization, for the city that hadn’t had a no-hitter before, at that point you throw everything out the window and you roll with it.”
— Carlos Rodón, Chicago White Sox (April 14 vs. Cleveland Indians): Rodón was two outs from baseball’s 24th perfect game when he hit Roberto Pérez with a pitch. “It just feels good to finally sit here and tell you I dominated today, and it felt good,” Rodón said.
— John Means, Baltimore Orioles (May 5 vs. Seattle Mariners): Like Musgrove, Means was breaking a long streak for his franchise: No Baltimore starter had thrown a no-hitter on their own since Jim Palmer did so in 1969. Means had never thrown a complete game and said he was nervous entering the ninth inning. “I got a little bit of the Jell-O legs, started to feel a little wobbly,” he said. “But once I threw that first pitch, I was able to lock in again.”
— Wade Miley, Cincinnati Reds (May 8 vs. Cleveland): Miley had to wait out an 83-minute rain delay before getting started, but he needed only 2 hours, 34 minutes to record baseball’s fourth no-hitter of the season. “He put on a clinic,” Cleveland manager Terry Francona said.
— Spencer Turnbull, Detroit Tigers (May 18 vs. Seattle): He said he did not feel right at all to start the game, but Turnbull, who led the majors in losses in 2019, made quick work of the Mariners, striking out nine and allowing only two base runners on walks. “It got to a point I think the last four innings, I don’t know if he shook one time,” catcher Eric Haase said. “We were just in really great sync and whatever I was putting down he was throwing and he was executing.”
— Corey Kluber, New York Yankees (May 19 vs. Texas): A four-pitch walk to Charlie Culberson in the third inning was all that stood between Kluber and perfection. But Kluber, in his first season in pinstripes after throwing only one inning for Texas last year because of injury, still managed the Yankees’ first no-hitter since David Cone’s perfect game in 1999. “There’s a lot of things that have to go your way,” Kluber said. “It’s definitely cool to do it in this uniform.”
— Zach Davies and three relievers, Chicago Cubs (June 24 vs. Los Angeles Dodgers): Davies lasted only six innings but his bullpen was able to keep the magic even as all four pitchers struggled with their control. “The hard part is taking out a guy that hasn’t given up a hit,” manager David Ross said of his decision to remove Davies. “I didn’t see him going nine for sure.”
— Tyler Gilbert, Diamondbacks (Aug. 14 vs. San Diego): Gilbert, a rookie acquired from Philadelphia as a Rule V draft pick, was making his first major league start but he was able to finish off the Padres in an efficient manner, needing just 21 pitches to record the final nine outs of the game. “I tried to tune out as much as I could,” Gilbert told reporters. “But that last inning, I heard everything.”
What is going on?
A number of factors are in play leading to the surge of no-hitters. Chief among them are an emphasis on power pitching and batters’ having shown a willingness to sell out contact in order to increase power. Those factors, plus surgical deployment of high-quality relievers, has resulted in strange numbers across the board.
Teams were averaging 8.04 hits per game through Aug. 13 — tied for the second lowest mark in baseball history behind 1909, according to Baseball Reference — and were striking out 8.78 times a game, the second highest total ever. As a result, batters were hitting .242 and scoring was down significantly for a second consecutive season.
Another factor that has to be considered is control. Shutouts are almost entirely a thing of the past — there have been 24 this season, and there have been fewer than 40 in each season since 2015 — but the seven starters who have thrown a no-hitter this season have kept their pitch counts low by employing remarkable control. Gilbert walked three batters, Turnbull walked two and Miley and Kluber each walked one. The other three pitchers who threw a no-hitter this season didn’t issue a single free pass. That obviously was not the case in the Cubs’ combined no-hitter, where each pitcher issued at least one walk.
Factor in colder weather in April and May, a new baseball, a preponderance of prohibited substances ahead of an MLB crackdown, advanced defensive positioning and other changes in the game and it has seemingly become a recipe for no-hitters becoming a common occurrence.
But you can’t discount simple variance. While no-hitters come at a fairly predictable rate over long periods of time, they have frequently come in clumps and then gone long stretches without one.
Where are the perfect games?
With all of these no-hitters it would seem logical that a perfect game would be mixed in, but baseball is in a strangely long stretch without one. Both Carlos Rodón and John Means came tantalizingly close to perfection this season, but Félix Hernández of the Seattle Mariners threw baseball’s last perfect game on Aug. 15, 2012. That stretch of nearly nine years is the longest between perfect games since the gap of 13 years, 7 days between Catfish Hunter’s masterpiece on May 8, 1968, and Len Barker’s on May 15, 1981.