Josh Winder flirts with no-hitter in Triple-A debut

Go ahead and pencil in Josh Winder as the ace of the Saints’ pitching staff.

And make sure it is in pencil, because the 24-year-old right-hander appears to be on the fast track to the major leagues.

Making his Saints debut Friday night at CHS Field after being called up from Double-A Wichita, Winder didn’t allow a hit until one out in the sixth inning. He left the game one batter later after recording his eighth strikeout of the game.

The Saints beat the Omaha Storm Chasers 7-3 with hitting stars aplenty, but the spotlight was on Winder from the time he struck out the first batter he faced to his tip of the cap to the crowd as he left the mound in the sixth to a rousing ovation.

A seventh-round draft pick by the Twins in 2018, Winder is now rated the No. 12 prospect in Minnesota’s minor-league system by MLB.com. He was 3-0 with a 1.98 earned-run average at Wichita before being called up to the Saints on June 28.

Friday’s results were more of the same.

“I’ve just been able to make incremental improvements to my game to where it’s gotten to the point that I’m at the edges of getting to that upper talent level,” Winder said of his rise through the system. “I’ve kind of broken through that barrier.

“Also, no one saw me (pitch) in 2020, (due to the pandemic) so they didn’t get to see how I have progressed. It’s been a lot of hard work behind close doors. So, it is nice to see that all paying off. But we’re not done yet. I’ll just keep my head down and keep working.”

Winder said he always gets nervous before a start, and Friday was no different.

“I was lucky to have a couple days to settle into the St. Paul area and settle into the locker room,” he said. “Everyone in the locker room has been very welcoming. So, as soon as the first pitch was thrown, I settled right back in and realized it’s just baseball. And I just rolled from there.”

Asked if he was aware he was throwing a no-hitter, Winder said,. “You’re always kind of aware of it, but I wasn’t really thinking about it too much. It doesn’t really become real until the seventh, eighth, ninth.”

Winder used four pitches on Friday — fastball, slider, curveball and change-up. His fastball settles in at a brisk 95 mph but his breaking pitches were what led to a lot of awkward swings by a good hitting team.

“Guys have kind of been on my fastball the last month or so,” Winder said. “So, we’ve been doing a better of job of mixing, keeping them off balance by not getting predictable in sequences.”

Drew Maggi put the Saints in front in the first inning with his fourth home run of the season. The Saints scored four more in the second. Keon Broxton homered with a man on, while Jose Miranda and Maggi collected RBI doubles.

Broxton drove in another run in the fourth on a single, and scored on a double by Maggi to give the Saints a 7-0 lead.

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