James Houser was the "just in case" provision.
Just in case . . . "some guys fell off, or got hurt, or got picked up, or whatever, just didn't do that well," Ducks manager Kevin Baez said before the Ducks' 3-1 win over the visiting Sugar Land Skeeters Saturday night.
Just in case the Ducks needed another dominant performance.
Just in case they wanted a pitcher they could consistently rely on.
Just in case they were looking for a guy that could flirt with throwing only the second no-hitter in team history, and help them bounce back from a brutal 2-5 road trip.
Just in case? Try just in case of emergency.
Houser, a repurposed lefty specialist that got thrown into the mix after Dontrelle Willis went down with tendinitis, was masterful in his fifth start of the year, and downright unhittable for most of the night. He allowed a walk to Russ Mitchell in the third inning, but otherwise retired the side in order until Jeff Dominguez led off the seventh with a bouncing grounder up the middle that made its way to the outfield.
Speaking of the no-hitter, Houser said, "I'm aware of the situation of allowing no hits," he said. "And I'm just honored to do this today for God, Jesus, my family and my teammates."
Houser was lifted after the hit, having thrown a season-high 89 pitches with five strikeouts -- courtesy of a biting slider that confounded a first-place Skeeter lineup that barely threatened to bite back. Houser improved to 5-0 with a 2.76 ERA, and 4-0 in his starts
"I was just able to execute. There was a game plan with [catcher] Ralph Henriquez and we were able to execute and I was able to throw my off-speed pitches for strikes . . . Moving to the starter position has been more routine. You have four days to prepare . . . I'm able to look at their swings the day before."
Baez said the Ducks (26-34) hoped Houser would be this good. "He can drop down, he can come from different angles, he's deceptive, he can throw strikes and he doesn't throw strikes when he doesn't have to," Baez said.
The Ducks offense struck early. After a just-missed foul ball to right, Ben Broussard ripped an Adam Miller offering just inside the rightfield foul pole for a two-run homer, three batters in. Dan Lyons opened up the third with a single and came around to score on Josh Barfield's double to left.
Miller settled down, and the Ducks (26-34) didn't get a hit until Barfield's two-out single in the eighth. "Our hitting can come around, though there are games that we can't seem to score," Baez said. "It all starts with the starting pitching."
After performances like last night, there's little doubt as to Houser's role in that equation: A reliable lefty and as close to a guaranteed win as the Ducks have in their rotation.
Just in case.