With the game knotted at two and a runner on first with no outs in the seventh inning Tuesday night, Tucson Padres manager Pat Murphy turned to a reliever who hadn't yet thrown a pitch in Triple-A baseball.
Kevin Quackenbush wasn't perfect in his first appearance - but he was close. The 24-year-old right-hander allowed just one hit and one walk in his two innings, picking up the 5-2 win against the Las Vegas 51s in the process.
For most, it would be as great a start as one could hope for. Yet for Quackenbush, it was just more of the same.
The humble Quackenbush said his road through the lower levels of the minor leagues hasn't been easy as he's faced plenty of difficult spots. The facts tell another story, though, as Quackenbush has compiled an 0.68 ERA through his first 132 2/3 innings of his career.
"I don't try to do anything special - I just try to get ahead of hitters and mix up pitches when they time me," Quackenbush said. "I don't change my game to the hitter in the box."
Quackenbush didn't play Wednesday night during the Padres 8-4 loss to the 51s, keeping his short Tucson résumé spotless for the time being.
With a fastball in the low 90s, Quackenbush doesn't overpower hitters. Instead he said he just tries to consistently hit his spot. As 51s hitters found out Tuesday, that can be a very difficult thing to counter.
Murphy said he talked to some of the Las Vegas hitters after Quackenbush's win and they described the fastball as "invisible." That deceptive movement has helped him rack up 189 strikeouts during his brief career, including two Tuesday night.
"He attacks the zone. His stuff plays at a higher level than what it actually reads," Murphy said.
"He's a great young man, he's very focused and at the same time has a very even keel. He has passion for the game."
Murphy said he's had the good fortune to watch Quackenbush develop since he worked with him back in 2011 when Quackenbush was a rookie on the Eugene Emeralds. Watching his untested pitcher enter a tight game and pick up the win was one of Murphy's favorite moments this season.
"It was awesome, one of my thrills this year to have Quack come in and do so well," Murphy said.
MLB.com has Quackenbush rated as the No. 18 overall prospect in the Padres' organization and his successful stint in Double-A (13 saves and a 0.29 ERA for San Antonio) has Quackenbush moving toward the majors. Murphy added that Quackenbush is "unflappable," not a bad characteristic for a late-game reliever to have.
He's not invincible though, even if his pitch is invisible.
"There were definitely some nerves, my blood was definitely flowing," Quackenbush said of his first appearance. "I just tried to get over that and try and get strike one and get ahead of the batter."
• Who: Las Vegas at Tucson
• When: 7:05 p.m.
• Radio: 1290-AM
Las Vegas 51s 8, Tucson 4
• Highlight: After a scoreless first three innings, Tucson (38-35) starting pitcher Sean O'Sullivan struggled to locate the strike zone in the fourth, and Las Vegas (37-34) took advantage, scoring four in the frame. The 51s added three more in the sixth inning off reliever Jorge Reyes to open up a 7-0 lead. The Padres answered with back-to-back home runs by left fielder Brandon Allen and first baseman Cody Decker in the bottom of the sixth to cut the lead to three. That was as close as Tucson could get, and third baseman Jesus Merchan grounded into a double play to end the game with two runners on base.
• Big number: 9: Tucson batters struck out nine times against Las Vegas, including six different Padres. The strikeouts really started to pile up after Tucson's sixth-inning rally as five of the next six batters struck out to quell any hopes of a comeback.
• Tonight's starters: Tucson RHP Brandon Kloess (2-2, 3.91 ERA) vs. RHP Rafael Montero (0-1, 2.25 ERA)