In tossing no-no, Bailey reaches full potential

In tossing no-no, Bailey reaches full potential

In tossing no-no, Bailey reaches full potential
PITTSBURGH -- Homer Bailey didn't just throw a no-hitter on Friday against the Pirates, he achieved in a 1-0 victory what hundreds upon hundreds of front-office people, scouts and media expected when he became a Reds pitching prospect long ago.

Greatness. It was late in coming, but it appeared to be in there all along.

"He's come a long way," Reds catcher Ryan Hanigan said after catching the 15th no-hitter in club history. "You never know how good this guy is going be. He's still got a lot of years left. He's getting better and he showed it tonight."

Homer Bailey
Homer's time

"I talked to Dusty [Baker] after the game and he said top-of-the-rotation starting pitchers develop," pitching coach Bryan Price said. "We may be seeing the evolution of another guy that can be considered a top-of-the-rotation starting pitcher."

Bailey, 26, was a first-round selection in the 2004 First-Year Player Draft and a much-hyped arrival to Great American Ball Park in Cincinnati for a June 8, 2007, debut against the Indians. But his arm and head weren't always in sync and there were a lot of setbacks along the way.

There were subpar years, like when he went 0-6 with a 7.93 ERA in eight 2008 starts. There were demotions to Triple-A Louisville in '08 and '09. Although his intelligence was never in question, there were times he could be abrasive or difficult to reach.

And there were plenty of injuries that prevented success, none more frustrating than the shoulder problems that put him on extended disabled list stints in 2011.

Entering 2012, Bailey showed maturity and the strength of his experience. He spent the offseason putting on weight and dedicated himself to workouts that would keep him strong at the end of a season -- the first 200-inning season of his big league career.

"His progression has been unbelievable," Hanigan said. "He was a little hard-headed when he first came into the league, trying to throw balls by guys. He's a four-pitch pitcher and that's rare. All of his pitches are quality and we used all of them tonight. I think there's time for power and there's time for location and deception. He's got a great feel. We get into a good rhythm, a lot of trust going on. We game plan pretty well."

Bailey made the most of his fastball for the majority of his 115 pitches, but didn't try too hard to raise his velocity.

"That's what we did a lot of tonight. I didn't have as much on it as I could," said Bailey, who walked one and struck out 10. "I could elevate it and move it in and out. Early on, we threw some sliders and kept them off balance. We changed eye levels and did all that stuff you're told a thousand times in the Minor Leagues."

It all came together in spectacular fashion on Friday. Bailey is now 13-10 with a 3.75 ERA in a career best 32 starts and 204 innings.

"We've been here a long time together. I'm happy for him with his success this year," right fielder Jay Bruce said. "He really turned some heads and started pitching like Homer."

The Reds haven't experienced a no-hitter since Tom Browning threw a perfect game against the Dodgers on Sept. 16, 1988. They came close in 2010, when Travis Wood took a perfect game into the ninth inning at Philadelphia before the Reds lost in extra innings.

Bruce, who reached the Majors in 2008, was hoping his teammate would have better luck.

"You notice they have no hits the whole night but then in the ninth inning, I just kind of started smiling thinking about it," Bruce said. "In 2010, when Travis had it going in Philly, it was fun. This was cool. He was just pitching well tonight. He was in control all night and that was fun to watch."

Brandon Phillips caught the final out on a routine popup in the outfield behind second base. He had a feeling that the game would favor both pitchers -- Bailey and Pirates starter A.J. Burnett.

"The umpire had a tight zone today," Phillips said. "I told everybody, 'The zone is real tight today, so we've got to be up there swinging.' It was crazy to be a part of."

Bailey has thrown two of his three career complete games this season, and all three have been against the Pirates.

"One thing Homer has really established in his growth is fighting his way through the early adversity in the game and keep himself in the game," Price said. "He certainly didn't have to do that so much today. But in the past, if he's been vulnerable, it's typically been early."

Through the first six innings on Friday, Bailey had only one ball leave the infield.

"He's definitely come a long way and he's healthy too, which has been hard for him in the past," outfielder Chris Heisey said. "To have him healthy and gain the confidence he's gaining, it's big for him. He's commanding better, developed more movement on his fastball, which is huge as a hitter. I know a guy moving a ball is a lot harder to hit."

Bailey also had the apparent comfort of PNC Park on his side. He is now 5-0 with a 1.40 ERA lifetime in five starts at Pittsburgh. He never appeared to be in trouble on Friday and aside from Scott Rolen's error, there were no close plays that could have spoiled his chance at a no-hitter.

There have been seven no-hitters in the Majors this season, but Bailey didn't know what made his special.

"Pitchers just have to find that fortunate night and there's got to be a couple of plays where defense makes a great play," he said. "Mix all of those things together, and you can have a very special night."

Mark Sheldon is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Mark My Word, and follow him on Twitter @m_sheldon. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.