By: Nick Roark
Eric Jokisch entered the Tennessee Smokies clubhouse Thursday afternoon slightly different than the way he left it last week. As Tennessee left Smokies Park last week to pile on their chartered bus in preparation for a 10-hour ride to Jacksonville, Jokisch was two days removed from being the second Smokies’ starter to land on the disabled list in a calendar week.
When he returned to his locker Thursday, the left-hander looked at his baby blue Tennessee uniform, recalling the memories he made wearing those colors Tuesday night while throwing just the second nine-inning no-hitter in Smokies history.
“[Pete Andrelczyk] hit a hard chopper up in the air,” Jokisch said with a smile on his face, recalling the final out. “I thought it might get over [Christian Villanueva’s] head but he made a nice play – backed up on it – made a good throw and that guy was running hard to first. After that it was just trying not to get hurt.”
A running of the bulls occurred at the pitcher’s mound mere seconds after Justin Bour scooped Villanueva’s throw out of the dirt at first base. Gloves were spiked, jerseys were ripped and a water cooler doused the 6-foot-2 Jokisch as the Tennessee team celebrated the third individual nine-inning no-hitter by a Smokies pitcher and the first since Scot Elam in 1985.
The evening began in odd fashion for the former Northwestern standout. Making his first start since being placed on the seven-day DL on July 31 with a recurring injury under his left shoulder blade, Jokisch faced uncertainty on what he would bring to the mound.
But injured Smokies starter Dallas Beeler made sure his roommate had all the confidence in the world before climbing the hill at Jacksonville’s Bragan Field.
“I felt really good in the bullpen and it was funny because Dallas Beeler was down there and I’d throw a pitch and it’d be a good one and he’d be like, ‘Yeah Eric there you go!’” Jokisch said.
“It was a little obnoxious,” Jokisch said “but it kind of loosened me up and it makes you feel good. You think it’s obnoxious but it actually helped and I’ve got to think him for that.”
The 24-year-old Illinois native went to work early in the contest, striking out five of the first six batters he faced and retiring the first ten Suns in order before allowing a one-out walk to Chris Gutierrez in the fourth.
Jokisch retired the side in 1-2-3 fashion in fifth and sixth innings before working around a pair a two-out walks in the seventh and eighth.
Having already worked a career-high eight innings while tossing 99 pitches, the 2010 Cubs’ 11th round draft pick entered the ninth inning for the most nerve-racking frame of his life.
“I seemed to be walking a little slower than I usually do and I tried to get myself some time,” Jokisch said of pacing himself. “I went out to that ninth inning and I was like, ‘Enjoy it whether they get a hit or not. This is a pretty cool little position you’re in.’ So I tried to take my time and make good pitches and the defense stepped up big time.”
The ninth inning proved to be the most difficult by far for the Smokies infield. Isaac Galloway lined a first-pitch fastball to Villanueva at third base, who moved one step to his left and snagged the ball in mid-air.
Jokisch faced Gutierrez for a fourth time in the next at-bat – and two pitches after nearly seeing his no-hitter crash into left field – the southpaw became witness to a diving grab by shortstop Javier Baez on a soft blooper behind the second base bag.
“It seemed no way that anybody was getting to that,” Jokisch said. “That was pretty unbelievable. I could not believe that he got to that and that just jacked me up. I mean that was ridiculous!”
After a “half-intentional” walk of Derek Dietrich by the 185-pound hurler, Jokisch retired the relief pitcher Andrelczyk in the following at-bat and etched his name into the record books.
“I saw Bour catch it, and I remember seeing the bullpen just darting in,” Jokisch said. “I was like, ‘Who do I look for?’ I kind of tried to look for Lopez but by that time I think I had half turned around and I was already trampled by everybody and I think a cooler came flying in somewhere. It was pretty ridiculous and once it calmed down I was able to see everybody individually.”
The Cubs’ Minor League Pitcher of the Month for April used a steady dose of his changeup and curveball to keep the Suns’ hitters off-balance, something he noticed charting pitches the night before.
“We threw like eighteen off-speed pitches the whole game and five of them for a strike,” Jokisch said. “We used some power arms the day before, so I knew if I kept them off balance and maybe slowed them up a little bit, that they might have some trouble with it.”
Three days removed from the career performance, Jokisch said he, “felt great” and the only thing that did not hurt was the injury that sidelined him for a week.
“But I wasn’t too concerned about how I felt,” Jokisch said. “I was pretty happy.”
It is highly unlikely the Cubs’ farmhand will throw another hitless gem in his next outing on Monday, but perhaps the next time Jokisch will be stampeded at the pitcher’s mound will be in September, with the clinching of a Southern League title.
To stay current with all the latest news, follow Smokies on Radio on Twitter and like the Smokies on Radio Facebook page. Nick Roark is the Senior Beat Writer for the Smokies Radio Network. You can follow him on Twitter here: NickRoark4.