It was the perfect time for a no-hitter.
The West Virginia Miners, playing a makeshift lineup in their 2012 Prospect League opener, received a masterpiece from pitcher Sam Lewis in a 5-0 victory over Slippery Rock (Pa.) Wednesday at Linda K. Epling Stadium.
Lewis, a senior right-hander from Indiana Wesleyan University, struck out seven batters, walked three and hit one in holding the Sliders hitless.
“To come out here the first day and play as well as we did, I’m happy for our team and our pitcher,” Miners manager Tim Epling said. “It was a great icebreaker.”
With three players out of position, and a pitcher batting as the designated hitter, it could have been an interesting night for the Miners, to say the least.
But the defense made just one error, and West Virginia scored two runs without a hit in the second inning.
Lewis did the rest.
He kept the ball low and stayed in front of the Slippery Rock batters to complete the first no-hitter of his career, on any level.
“My change-up and curve were working, and I had a great defense,” said Lewis, who was 4-2 with a team-best 3.81 ERA this spring for Indiana Wesleyan.
“Me and the catcher (Grant Williams) have clicked well in the week I’ve known him. I came out and pitched the best I could.”
West Virginia, last year’s Prospect League runner-up and Eastern Division champions, had just 17 players in uniform for the game, the first of a twin-bill with Slippery Rock.
Several Miners are still playing college ball, and two others are injured.
Alex De La Rosa, a returning center fielder last season, played at first base. Newcomers Robbie Enslen and Kolin McMillian, both infielders, played left and right field, respectively.
Another addition to the roster, pitcher Will Blalock, batted in the DH position.
“Good athletes can play multiple positions,” Epling said. “I had to put people in position to where it would give us a chance to win.”
De La Rose had some nice scoops at first base, while McMillian made three catches in right.
Blalock, a right-handed pitcher from Lipscomb College, had a line-drive single to right in the fifth inning.
“We let the pitchers hit the other day in batting practice and I watched Will swing the bat,” Epling recalled. “I said, ‘Man, did you hit in college?’ and he said no.
“I joked with him and said I was going to call his coach and tell him he was playing Will out of position. He’s got a good stroke, and was really calm in the batter’s box.”
West Virginia moved ahead 2-0 in the second inning when Robbie Enslen walked, Williams was hit by a pitch and Leon Sergio also drew a base on balls.
Enslen and Williams both scored when Sliders catcher Steve Sulcoski committed a passed ball, and compounded it by bouncing a throw past pitcher Jesse Mowen at the plate.
The Miners added three more runs in the fifth on a walk to Sergio, and singles by Blalock, Bradley Strong and Matt Chavarria.
Mowen gave up five runs, three of them earned, on five hits. He walked three and struck out one. Shawn Patterson pitched a scoreless sixth for Slippery Rock.
Lewis and the Miners’ defense, on the other hand, never let a batter past first base.
Epling said he had learned of Lewis from a Boston Red Sox scout.
“Some of Sam’s numbers are misleading. He threw a lot better today than what his college stats show,” he said. “I watched him in the bullpen the second day he was here and I said, ‘Wow. He’s got some good stuff.’
“He threw well. He kept his pitch count down and we played good defense.”
Returning ace Jared Messer scattered four hits as West Virginia won the nightcap 2-1.
Messer struck out six Sliders and walked none to win a pitcher’s duel with the Sliders’ Luis Flores, who gave up three hits and three walks while fanning six.
Chavarria and Williams had run-scoring hits for the Miners.