No pitcher likes being on a restricted pitch count.
But while he's on his way back from an oblique injury, Trenton hurler Jason Stephens knows it goes with the territory. And with a bullpen that's been rock solid lately, why worry ?
On Thursday, Stephens turned it over to his bullpen after delivering three hitless innings out of the starting gate. The 'pen didn't disappoint, allowing only one hit over the next seven innings to complete the 4-0 shutout of New Hampshire.
"It's great," Stephens said. "They did an outstanding job here today. They have been throwing really well lately. It makes it a lot easier to come out of the game. While I'm working my pitch count, I have no problem doing that."
Long reliever Kanecoa Texeira threw another hitless three innings to keep New Hampshire off the board. In fact, Thunder pitching didn't allow a hit until Luis Sanchez knocked a single off Wilkins Arias in the seventh inning. Texeira said he didn't even realize the Fisher Cats hadn't recorded a hit until he came out of the game.
"I didn't really even know that we had a no-hitter," Texeira said. "I came out and me and Stephens were talking and I was like 'Uh, did you give up a hit?' 'No, did you?' and we realized that something was going on. Obviously we gave up a hit but it was still great to get the win."
Entering the game, Texeira knew he was going to get a big chunk of innings but insisted it didn't change his approach.
"Same mindset as usual," he said. "Try and get outs. Try not give up runs. My mindset is basically the same as a starter. I knew I was going to see a lot of innings."
Trenton's bullpen, led by Texeira's eight wins and closer Amaury Sanit (10 saves, 2.95 ERA), has been especially tough lately. Combine them with a strong starting rotation and you get a 3.43 team ERA, which ranks fourth in the league.
"The bullpen takes a lot of pride," Texeira said. "Sometimes the games comes down to us so if we aren't focused, then who knows what could happen. We are pretty happy with what we've been doing lately, though."
The bullpen's success has come at an opportune time as Trenton currently sits five games behind division-leading Connecticut.
"It always comes down to those close games," Stephens said. "You've got to be able to close the ones where you're ahead. We're starting to play well and hopefully we can secure a playoff spot and keep it coming."
Stephens' strong start was another encouraging sign for Trenton's stretch run. The three-inning outing was a success as the former sixth-round Draft pick struck out one and didn't walk a batter.
"I felt pretty good today," Stephens said. "This was only my second day back but I commanded my fastball well, which is always the key for me. So it was an effective outing all the way around."
Bailey Stephens is an associate reporter for MLB.com This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.