Despite a series of close calls over the weekend, including one-hitters from St. Louis' Shelby Miller and White Sox ace Chris Sale, the 2013 season is still awaiting its first no-hitter. It's still early, but by this time last year, fans had already witnessed a pair of no-hitters -- one of which was a perfect game -- en route to a modern era record-tying seven no-nos.
Last year's no-hitters came from a variety of outlets, ranging from veteran staff aces to relatively unknown No. 5 starters to a group effort that included six pitchers. It should come as no surprise then that for the six starters -- Philip Humber, Jered Weaver, Johan Santana, Matt Cain, Felix Hernandez and Homer Bailey -- to throw no-hitters last year, their 2013 results to this point have been all over the board.
The other no-hitter in 2012 was thrown by a combination of now-retired starter Kevin Millwood and five Mariners relievers.
As for the other six, only Hernandez won multiple games over the season's first month. More recently, the Mariners ace has won four consecutive starts while allowing just two earned runs in those outings and completing eight innings in each of the last three.
The most recent such outing came on Thursday against the Pirates on a night when Hernandez admittedly didn't have his best stuff. The 27-year-old still managed to limit Pittsburgh to just one run over eight frames in a 2-1 victory.
"That's the same Felix who's been showing up for the last few years," said Pirates manager Clint Hurdle. "He never hit that other gear with his velocity, but the spin and sequences were there. The breaking ball to right-handed hitters and changeup to left-handers ... still filthy."
Cain just recently joined Hernandez as a multiple-game winner by winning his second straight start on Friday night. Bailey (1-3, 3.83 ERA) is still seeking his first victory since winning his season debut by tossing six shutout innings on April 5.
Times have been even rougher for the other three.
Santana is in the midst of missing the entire season for the second time in the last three years after undergoing another surgery on his left shoulder. Weaver, too, has dealt with injury problems this year, though not nearly as severe. The Angels right-hander, who left his second start of the season with a broken left elbow, is hoping to return by late May.
And then, of course, there's Humber. The 30-year-old shocked the baseball world by throwing a perfect game on April 21 last season, but it's been mostly downhill for the righty since. By the end of last season, Humber's struggles had landed him in the White Sox bullpen, and he was claimed off waivers by the Astros following the season.
It didn't take long for Humber to suffer a similar fate in Houston. After starting the season 0-7 with an 8.82 ERA in seven starts, Humber was moved to the bullpen last Wednesday. In his second relief appearance on Saturday, he was tagged for five runs while recording just two outs against the Rangers in suffering his eighth loss of the season.
"It's hard, but there's a lot worse things than struggling on a baseball field," Humber said on Saturday before being designated for assignment one day later. "I feel bad as far as the team goes. I want to do the best I can for the team, but it's not about me. I'm a man, I can handle struggling. It's disappointing because you put a lot of hard work in and don't get the results you want.
"That's part of sports. That's why it's competition. Not everybody gets success. It doesn't happen all the time. That's why you can't take a single day for granted."
From the time of Humber's DFA on Sunday, Houston has 10 days to trade him, release him or outright him to the Minor Leagues -- an unfortunate turn of events for one of just 23 pitchers to throw a perfect game.
"I have a tremendous amount of respect for Philip Humber for the way he carried himself, the way he handled himself and even the way he handled being moved from the rotation to the bullpen," Astros manager Bo Porter said. "Never once did this man point the finger at anybody else, never once did he give an excuse. He stood there and took the questions and said, 'I'm giving everything I have and it's not working out.' For that, I commend him and respect him."
As for the non-injured reigning no-hit pitchers, Cain seems to finally be regaining the form of a pitcher who had thrown three career one-hitters prior to his June 13 perfect game last season.
The Giants' ace has turned in back-to-back dominant performances, conceding just three runs over 15 1/3 innings. In his latest outing on Friday, Cain pitched a season-high eight frames against the Braves, yielding two runs off just three hits. Following the game, Braves six-time All-Star catcher Brian McCann said Cain looked every bit like the 16-game winner from a season ago.
"His ball was coming out hot tonight," said McCann, whose two-run homer accounted for all of Atlanta's offense. "He was real deceptive. His 92 looks 94. That's why he is so good."
Though Cain's two consecutive victories improved his record to 2-2, the right-hander still sports a 5.04 ERA through eight starts.
As for Hernandez, he enters play Monday with an American League-leading 1.53 ERA. While every Major League pitcher knows one outing won't make or break a career, Mariners skipper Eric Wedge said it is Hernandez's ongoing relentless work ethic in the wake of last year's perfect game that has resulted in his continued 2013 success.
"He knows he has to go out there and make it happen. He has worked hard and pitched for a long time to get to this point," Wedge said. "I love the fact that he doesn't assume anything, he knows he has to go out there and do the work in between his starts.
"That's one of the many reasons why he is who he is."
It's also one of the main reasons Hernandez retired 27 straight hitters on Aug. 15, 2012, and remains a threat to do so again every time he toes the rubber.