Chayce McDermott had never contributed to a no-hitter before. And it took him until the final stages of the Bowie Baysox’s May 19th game against Altoona to realize that was about to change.
The right-hander was already in the clubhouse after throwing five no-hit innings by the time Easton Lucas was putting the finishing touches on the combined gem that also included a pair of innings from Nolan Hoffman.
The hint that clued him in: Listening to the team’s radio broadcast while working through his post-start routine.
“That was crazy and super fun,” McDermott said. “I had teammates in college throw one, but that was the only one I had personally been a part of. Easton and Hoffman did the hard part of that game.”
That night is arguably the highlight of McDermott’s season to date, but the third-year pro — acquired last summer from Houston as part of the Trey Mancini deal — has emerged as a steady piece of Bowie’s rotation in his first full year in Baltimore’s organization.
McDermott, a fourth-round pick out of Ball State in 2021, made eight starts after the deal. He posted a 6.08 ERA in six appearances at Bowie to close the year, and he’s been much more comfortable both with his new team and the Double-A level this season.
“You always know there’s a possibility you could get traded, but you never really expect it,” McDermott said. “It was crazy. I met a lot of good friends over there with the Astros, and I’ve met a lot of great people over here, too.”
McDermott is 3-4 with a 2.68 ERA in 10 appearances (eight starts) at Bowie this season and has 53 strikeouts in 43 2/3 innings. Some of the credit for that goes to his emerging sweeper, a pitch he began tinkering with when he was still playing for the Astros’ Single-A affiliate in Asheville, North Carolina.
He didn’t use it in a game before the trade. But when he arrived in Bowie after a brief stopover in Aberdeen, then-Baysox pitching coach Josh Conway urged him to try it and see what happened, figuring if it didn’t work well McDermott could discard it in the offseason.
Instead, it’s increasingly grown part of his repertoire this spring.
“I started throwing it a tiny bit last year when I got here and then in the offseason we worked more on the movement of it,” McDermott said. “Now that the movement is where it needs to be, we’re honing in on the location and it’s become more of a consistent strike pitch when I need it.”
In general, consistent strikes are about the only troubling thing about McDermott’s first two months of the season. Opponents are batting .148 against him, and he’s allowing roughly a hit every two innings.
But there have been issues staying inside the zone. Wednesday’s outing against Harrisburg is a good avatar for what’s happened when there haven’t been enough swings and misses. McDermott allowed just one hit and one run in 3 2/3 innings but also walked five and was pulled after throwing 86 pitches (44 strikes).
With more walks (31) than hits (22) allowed this season, it’s little surprise the subject of command has surfaced repeatedly. For now, McDermott is looking to apply something akin to reverse psychology as the minor-league season nears its midpoint.
“I think it’s more of a mindset thing,” McDermott said. “I think I have all the physical capabilities to get back in the zone. Just mindset-wise, when everyone tells you command is an issue, that’s what you focus on. We’re trying to go away from focusing on command and focus on other things. Just changing the mindset will be a good thing.”
He’s still looking to add other options, including a splitter that gives him an extra pitch to throw to left-handed hitters that moves away from them. While it’s a work in progress, it has shown some promise through both whiffs and weak contact.
Regardless of which pitches happen to be working, working deeper into games would be an ideal development. Two starts ago, he logged a season-high 5 2/3 innings and allowed just two hits, striking out five while walking six at Akron on May 25th.
Toss in his part of the no-hitter, and McDermott has a base of recent success to work with as he delves deeper into the season.
“I think the big thing we can focus on is I’ve only given up three hits in my last 15 innings,” McDermott said. “Roll with that, play with that and keep trying to avoid bats, but do it in [the] zone.”