April 15, 2024

Astros’ Ronel Blanco throws 2024 MLB season’s first no-hitter in rout of Blue Jays

HOUSTON – He worked at a car wash in the Dominican Republic before receiving a $5,000 signing bonus to fulfill his baseball dream. He appeared in line to make his first big league team as a reliever before the Houston Astros’ new general manager convinced pitching coaches to convert him into a starter. Ronel Blanco did not debut until age 28, profiling more as organizational depth than a meaningful piece.

Now, Blanco is part of major-league lore. In his eighth major-league start, one few expected him to make entering spring training, Blanco threw the 17th no-hitter in Houston Astros history and first of the 2024 MLB season, taming the Toronto Blue Jays during a 10-0 win at Minute Maid Park.

Blanco, a 30-year-old right-hander who had no prospect status and stood slim chances of making this team out of camp, turned in one of the most unexpected pieces of pitching history in this franchise’s existence. Blanco had never thrown more than six innings in a major-league game and had never crossed the 100-pitch threshold. He threw 105 to author history.

If not for injuries to Justin Verlander and José Urquidy, Blanco may be in the minor leagues or a member of Houston’s bullpen. He did not officially claim a rotation spot until his final exhibition start of the spring — the same day he and his wife welcomed a baby girl.

Blanco arrived at the ballpark that afternoon to make his start. He didn’t pitch again until Monday — with Houston reeling from an 0-4 start and a shorthanded bullpen in desperate need of a boost.

Blanco provided more than enough. George Springer worked two walks, but no other Blue Jays hitter reached base. After needing 19 pitches to finish the first inning, Blanco needed fewer than 15 to complete the eight ensuing frames.

Toronto hit four balls harder than 90 mph against him. Only three batted balls reached the outfield. No other one traveled more than 192 feet.
Blanco deflected Alejandro Kirk’s sharp grounder to start the eighth, but fill-in second baseman Mauricio Dubón scooped it on the carom to complete the putout. José Abreu made a diving stop on Cavan Biggio’s sharp grounder during the ninth to prevent another hit.

Blanco controlled the Blue Jays with a wicked changeup he threw at will. All seven of his strikeouts concluded upon it. The pitch comprised just nine percent of his major-league arsenal last season, but he spent spring training refining it in hopes of making his repertoire more unpredictable.

Blanco threw 36 changeups, 31 four-seam fastballs and spun 34 sliders. Worry about his long-term viability as a starter always centered around a lack of a third pitch, perhaps preventing him from navigating a lineup more than once.

Monday’s outing may have calmed most of those concerns.

(Top photo of Ronel Blanco: Logan Riely/Getty Images)