If you had told me before the season that the sixth no-hitter of the year would be thrown on May 19th, I would’ve laughed and called you nuts. Yes, MLB deadened the ball heading into 2021, but based on the record offense of 2019-20, you’d have a hard time convincing me that hitters could be neutralized so rapidly.
Add on top the fact that no more than four no-hitters had been thrown in each of the previous five seasons — 11 total since 2015 at that — and that six would put us one away from the single-season record with less than a quarter of the season played ... well, color me skeptical. Yet there we were, 43 games into 2021 as Corey Kluber capped off a sextuple of no-no’s around the league.
Throwing a no-hitter can be grueling, both physically and mentally. It is natural, then, to wonder about the pitcher’s performance in subsequent outings given this herculean effort. It’s hard enough for pitchers to try to pull a Johnny Vander Meer without considering how they must feel at the outset of the second start. With that in mind, let’s look at what to expect from Kluber on Tuesday based on how the other pitchers fared in the starts following their no-hitters. (We will not be counting Madison Bumgarner for the sake of this exercise since he didn’t have the toll of going nine innings.)
Joe Musgrove threw the first no-hitter of the season, as well as the first in the Padres’ 53-year franchise history, on April 9th against the same team that Kluber victimized: the Rangers. Musgrove was actually just one hit batter — Joey Gallo in the fourth — away from a perfect game. He struck out 10, and 90 of his 112 pitches were breaking balls — slider, cutter, and curveball.
Musgrove labored a tad in his next outing on April 14th against his old team, the Pirates, needing 81 pitches to complete only four innings. However, he was still effective in those four frames, allowing only one run on four hits and two walks while striking out six. Musgrove induced 11 whiffs — four fewer than in the no-no — and it’s reasonable to ask whether the Padres pulled him early out of an abundance of caution.
The same day that Musgrove returned to the mound, Carlos Rodón followed his no-no with a masterpiece of his own. The southpaw is one of the great stories in the game, having come back from major shoulder injuries in 2018 and Tommy John surgery in 2019 to throw a no-hitter in his second start of the season. He blanked Cleveland on April 14th, and just like Musgrove was only a hit batter away from a perfecto — though Rodón carried it into the ninth, when he grazed Roberto Pérez with two outs to go. Still, Rodón fanned 7 on 114 pitches, and was still pumping 98 against the final batter.
Rodón faced Cleveland again his next start six days later, allowing two runs (one earned) on three hits and five walks in five innings. His velocity was down about a half-mile per hour, but he did manage to strike out eight. Encouragingly, he had plenty of gas in the tank, throwing 110 pitches.
John Means threw perhaps the most dominant no-hitter this year, achieving his on May 5th against the Mariners. He faced the minimum, but missed out on a perfect game because of a strikeout-wild pitch (top-five dumbest rule in the sport, change my mind) to Sam Haggerty in the third. Pedro Severino would throw out Haggerty attempting to steal second later that inning. He threw 26 of 27 first-pitch strikes, induced 26 whiffs, and struck out 12 on 113 pitches.
Means also had the best follow-up start to his no hitter of everyone in the bunch, throwing six shutout innings against the Mets on May 11th. He allowed six hits and no walks while striking out three, but was surprisingly pulled after only 74 pitches. Perhaps the Orioles were being too cautious with their ace, considering they would go on to lose that game, 3-2.
A mere two days after Means’ feat, Wade Miley tossed the fourth no-hitter of the season. The May 7th no-no against Cleveland came as quite the surprise, given that the 34-year-old veteran is neither a power pitcher — he topped out at 91 mph — nor adept at missing bats — he collected only nine whiffs (though did strikeout eight). Instead, Miley pitched to his strength, inducing weak contact all night long with an 84.7-mph average exit velocity against and only allowed a pair of baserunners in the sixth on a walk and an error.
Miley unfortunately fared far worse than his no-hit throwing brethren, getting pummeled for eight runs on eleven hits against the Rockies a week later. He lasted only three innings — though it took 89 pitches to get there — and wound up on the 10-day injured list with a left foot sprain a week later. Interestingly, none of the runs came via home run and Miley actually induced weaker contact than in his no-hit start, so I’d chalk this clunker up to a combination of missed locations and the misfortune of pitching in Coors.
Spencer Turnbull’s no-hitter foreshadowed Kluber’s, coming just 24 hours earlier on May 18th against the Mariners. He allowed only two baserunners on a pair of walks, and struck out nine. Like Rodón, he impressively maintained his velocity throughout the start, with his fastest pitch coming in the ninth: a 96-mph fastball against the final batter of the game, Mitch Haniger.
Unfortunately, Turnbull has not yet pitched a subsequent outing for us to evaluate.* His next start is scheduled for May 24th, giving him two extra days of rest. This is an understandable move by the Tigers, given that Turnbull threw a career-high 117 pitches to complete the no-no.
There you have it: three good starts and one clunker. Not the largest sample, but they’re the pitchers most familiar with the 2021 style of baseball. So to me, there is (mostly) little reason to worry about a pitcher’s performance following a no-hitter. The Yankees can feel quite confident in Kluber to have an effective outing the day after tomorrow against the Blue Jays, especially given the way he was pitching leading up to the no-hitter. It’ll probably be good that Kluber will get a fifth day of rest due to the Monday off-day, too. Can he make it two no-no’s in a row? Probably not, but one can dream.
(Shout-out to The Idiot that said, “Harper is Coming” for inspiring this post, it was a wonderful idea!)
*Update: Turnbull’s line against Cleveland on May 24th: 6 IP, 7 H, 3 R (3 ER), 1 BB, 3 K. So not exactly no-hit form, though better than Miley.