National Sports – NO HITTER! TEAM USA BLANKS CUBA TO OPEN SERIES

usa baseballTeam USA hands Cuba first ever no-hitter in international play

CARY, N.C. — Tanner Houck (Missouri), A.J. Puk (Florida) and Ryan Hendrix (Texas A&M) combined to hand the Cuban National Team its first ever no-hitter in international play, allowing only a walk and error, in a 2-0 win for the USA Collegiate National Team, on a perfectWednesday night at the USA Baseball National Training Complex.

For the third time in USA Baseball Collegiate National Team history, the Americans posted a no-hitter. It marked Team USA’s first no-hitter since Carson Fulmer, Tyler Jay, Dillon Tate and Ryan Burr combined to no-hit the Netherlands in 2014. Team USA also no-hit Korea in 2010, a combined effort from Sonny Gray, Kyle Winkler and Noe Ramirez, for the first no-hitter in National Training Complex history.

“They pitched tremendously,” Team USA manager Ed Blankmeyer (St. John’s) said. “They located well, they were confident and we defended well. I was bowled over when I talked to the Cuban press and they told me that was the first time Cuba had ever been no-hit in international play. That is pretty special. And that was pretty dominant, there were no close ones. Maybe two balls were really hit hard the entire game. We showed something very special tonight.”

The combination of Houck, Puk and Hendrix, along with catcher Chris Okey (Clemson) and pitching coach Gary Henderson (Kentucky), held the Cubans at bay for nine innings, surrendering just one walk and a one-out error.

Houck worked four pre-determined, perfect innings, not allowing a baserunner and retiring all 12 hitters he faced. Houck, a 6-foot-5, 215-pound right-hander, started nine of 12 hitters with first-pitch strikes, collecting four first-pitch outs. Houck threw 40 pitches, with 28 going for strikes. In three outings with Team USA, Houck has a 2.13 ERA in 12.2 innings, fanning 11 and walking just one.

“Our plan was to just get out and attack the zone against these hitters,” Houck said. “We talked about it before that they were going to be aggressive early in the counts. We just wanted to attack the zone early, get ahead of these guys, and they made some early contact”

Puk (1-0) started the fifth inning in a scoreless game. A 6-foot-7, 225-pounder, Puk tossed four innings, allowing only a leadoff walk and a one-out error. He threw 50 pitches, with 31 going for strikes, and seven of 14 hitters getting first-pitch strikes.

Team USA (7-4) called on Hendrix in the ninth inning to protect a two-run lead and clinch the historic no-hitter. Hendrix came on to face 9-1-2 in the Cuba order, getting three groundouts, two to third baseman Bobby Dalbec (Arizona) to complete the no-hitter.

The three pitchers combined to throw only 99 pitches, with 35 going as balls. A runner reached scoring position only in the seventh inning after a leadoff walk and a sacrifice bunt, with groundouts up the middle, forced by Puk, ending the threat with the tying run on third base.

“Tanner Houck was really good,” Team USA pitching coach Gary Henderson (Kentucky) said. “He got it started for us. The bottom was dropping out of the two-seam. He got the slider over in the third and fourth innings when we rolled the lineup over. Really impressive. In control of his the entire night. Only threw 40 pitches over four innings and then A.J. came in, wasn’t as sharp early – probably a little over pumped – and really found it in the last three innings. They were sharp and he was good. Mixed his pitches well and stayed aggressive. Held on to his delivery. Really impressive night for A.J. The obviously, Ryan, in the ninth inning was outstanding.”

Team USA started the scoring with a run in the bottom of the sixth inning on a key RBI hit from Matt Thaiss (Virginia), with the baserunning of Corey Ray (Louisville) leading to a run in the eighth inning for a two-run cushion.

Second baseman Bryson Brigman (San Diego) led the way with a 2-for-3 game. Team USA also got hits from Ray, Thaiss, Okey, KJ Harrison (Oregon State) and Nick Banks (Texas A&M). Shortstop Ryan Howard (Missouri) added a walk.

The win snaps a five-game winning streak for Cuba vs. the USA Collegiate National Team and marked the first win for Team USA in America vs. the Cubans since sweeping Cuba in a five-game series in 2013, the first games played between the two nation’s on American soil since 1996.

“It is huge,” Okey said on the opening win, after his Team was swept in 2014. “It is nice to break the ice if you will. Last year we had a hard time getting it going in that environment. To come out here on American soil, get a W, let alone a no-hitter, in the first game. They are a very talented team. Tomorrow is a new day so we have to come out and be ready to fire.”

Team USA and Cuba will return to action with the first of two games at the Durham Bulls Athletic Park, with first pitch at 7 p.m. EDT.

In the bottom of the sixth inning, Team USA strung together three consecutive singles to take the first lead of the game. Okey led off with a single through the left side and after an out, Reed smacked a single up the middle. Thaiss then ripped a RBI single to centerfield, allowing Okey to score for a one-run lead.

Team USA got an insurance run in the eighth inning, as Ray reached on a one-out fielding error and took two bases on a passed ball that skidded away to the third base dugout netting. With the infield in and one out, Reed chopped a grounder up the middle, with a leaping attempt to snag allowing Ray to slide in and the out to be recorded at first base for a two-run lead.

Cuba (0-1) starter Freddy Alvarez (0-1) worked six strong innings, allowing seven hits and one run, walking one and striking out four. Livan Moinelo started the seventh inning, working two innings, allowing one hit and one unearned run, striking out three.

GAME NOTES: Tanner Houck (Missouri) made his second start of the summer … Nick Banks (Texas A&M) has reached safely in all 11 games for Team USA and has a hit in 10 of 11 games … Corey Ray (Louisville) has a hit in 10 of 11 games … Team USA is now 6-1 when scoring first … The no-hitter is the first for Team USA since 2014 and the first ever no-hitter allowed by Cuba in international play … There have been three no-hitters in Team USA history, coming against the Netherlands (2014) and Korea (2010) … Ryan Hendrix (Texas A&M) appeared in his team-leading sixth game and notched his club-high third save.

 

 

Ed Blankmeyer, Manager

On the no-hitter …

“They pitched tremendously. They located well, they were confident and we defended well. Offensively we were a little tight at the beginning. I was bowled over when I talked to the Cuban press and they told me that was the first time Cuba had ever been no-hit in international play. That is pretty special. And that was pretty dominant, there were no close ones. Maybe two balls were really hit hard the entire game. We showed something very special tonight.”

On A.J. Puk, who earned the win in relief …

“He is a special arm. He has a big arm. He was able to throw that fastball to both sides of the plate. And he just showed that breaking stuff enough to help him. When he is on, when he is dialed in, he is tough. He is real tough. And Tanner, with his slot, he is just very deceptive. It just makes it so difficult against right-handed batters. I just wouldn’t want to hit against the guy.”

On why they chose Tanner Houck to start …

“(Tanner) is a little bit of a rookie. He is a freshman. A.J. had experience out of the pen. And we just liked that look better, coach Henderson and myself. And it came true.”

On Ryan Hendrix earning the save and completing the no-hitter …

“Ryan came in and he is special. I think he found his niche.”

Gary Henderson, Pitching Coach

On how impressed he was with the three pitchers …

“I was really impressed. It was a fun night. First time ever the United States had thrown a no-hitter against Cuba. Great night. Great group of kids. Really just an enjoyable evening.”

On the three pitchers combining for the no-hitter …

“Tanner Houck was really good. He got it started for us. The bottom was dropping out of the two-seam. He got the slider over in the third and fourth innings when we rolled the lineup over. Really impressive. In control of his the entire night. Only threw 40 pitches over four innings and then A.J. came in, wasn’t as sharp early – probably a little over pumped – and really found it in the last three innings. They were sharp and he was good. Mixed his pitches well and stayed aggressive. Held on to his delivery. Really impressive night for A.J. The obviously, Ryan, in the ninth inning was outstanding.”

On how much he has enjoyed working with 18 different pitchers for Team USA …

“I’ve enjoyed it a lot. It’s been a fun group of kids. Really talented group obviously. They are all learning to listen. I’m learning a lot as well about the things that they do and how they all go about their business. It has been fun.

On working with the coaching staff of Blankmeyer, Paul Mainieri, Rich Hill and Eliott Avent …

“That part has been great. Working with coach Blankmeyer has been great. Paul has been great. And then obviously getting to coach with Rich after having played with him 32 years ago has been a little different life experience that I have really enjoyed.”

Chris Okey, Catcher

On when he really noticed the no-hitter …

“I kind of noticed it in the fifth. I don’t want to say anything because it was a little early. I am always a premature guy when it comes to that. If there is one in the third, I always notice it being the catcher, so I noticed it and didn’t want to say anything. The guys had electric stuff tonight, made my job easy. What a win.”

On when he notched Tanner Houck was untouchable …

“Early on. As much life as he has in his fastball, the run that he has, it is tough to hit him. Then the other guys came in and made it short and quick. It was just an incredible, incredible game.”

On the no-hitter …

“We had some pretty good defense out there. And the pitchers made it easy on us. They kept pumping strikes, doing their job. It was awesome.

On bouncing back after Cuba swept his Team USA club in 2014 …

“It is huge. It is nice to break the ice if you will.  Last year we had a hard time getting it going in that environment. To come out here on American soil, get a W, let alone a no-hitter, in the first game. They are a very talented team. Tomorrow is a new day so we have to come out and be ready to fire.”

On managing the emotions of a no-hitter and close game …

“In this game, it is easy to get into that roller coaster of energy. You can be very high or very low at times. We kept things good and set. We kept playing the game, didn’t panic early on when we couldn’t scratch a run across. Once we got one across it loosened us up a little bit and from there on out we played very well.”

Tanner Houck, Missouri

On the plan to get early contact …

“Our plan was to just get out and attack the zone against these hitters. We talked about it before that they were going to be aggressive early in the counts. We just wanted to attack the zone early, get ahead of these guys, and they made some early contact”

On not using his secondary pitches until late in his outing …

“It was nice to keep my secondary pitches in my back pocket until I really needed them. Then we were able to flip them in there and show that I have the breaking ball and the change-up that I can throw too. Primarily for us, it was just fastball, slider, and attacking the zone early.”

On how important his two-week break before joining Team USA was after a long season …

“Those two weeks off were life saving for me. Went home, didn’t touch a baseball. Hung out with friends, spent time with the family, played with the dog a little bit and didn’t touch a baseball. Then I went back to school, and got fired up for that week before I came here. And my arm just had new life.”

Ryan Hendrix, Texas A&M

On if he knew he was trying to close out a no-hitter …

“I had no idea. I really didn’t. I wasn’t really paying attention to the scoreboard. I never think about that. I just think about going out and commanding my fastball.”

On getting contact early in the count …

“Puk and Tanner were doing that all game. I was able to mix in my curveball. That is what they hit that high chopper on, it was all curveballs. I always have good feel for that pitch. It is my best pitch.”

On his excitement for the outing …

“It was great. Making history with a no-hitter. That is awesome. I wouldn’t think we could do it against these guys. Just a great outing.”

On when he realized it was a no-hitter …

“Really after the game. I just looked at the scoreboard and was like ‘Wow, no-hitter. That’s crazy man.’ That’s when I realized. I wasn’t thinking about it in the bullpen either.”

On his family coming from Texas to see their first game, and it being a no-hitter he finishes …

“It is special. Driving 15 hours down here to come to this game. The first game, they get to see a no hitter. I can’t wait to hug their necks after this.”

On finding a nice role as a late-inning reliever …

“I do. I like going just one inning. Throw my curveball up there. Being able to throw that one inning is awesome.”

About USA Baseball

USA Baseball is the national governing body for the sport of baseball in the United States and is a member of the United States Olympic Committee and the World Baseball Softball Confederation. The organization selects and trains the World Baseball Classic, World Cup and Pan Am teams (and all other USA Baseball Professional Teams); the USA Baseball Collegiate National Team; the USA Baseball 18U, 15U and 12U National Teams; and the USA Baseball Women’s National Team, all of which participate in various international competitions each year. USA Baseball also presents the Golden Spikes Award annually to the top amateur baseball player in the country. For more information, please visit USABaseball.com.

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