It wasn’t the leap forward to a dominant showing a sellout crowd at Cheney Stadium would have liked, but the potential was pretty evident.
Danny Hultzen has the stuff to get hitters out – at any of the minor-league levels.
Battling spotty pitch command and long at-bats, Hultzen lasted four innings in his Triple-A home debut Thursday night but the Mariners’ prized pitching prospect left with a lead.
It didn’t last after that as Las Vegas scored 10 runs off Tacoma relief pitchers and spoiled Hultzen’s first Cheney Stadium outing with an 11-4 victory in front of 7,435.
The winning pitcher was a guy Hultzen – like many left-handers – looked up to growing up in Jamie Moyer, who will turn 50 in November.
It was Moyer’s first start with the Toronto organization. He was heartily greeted by the Tacoma crowd before and after he took the mound.
Afterward, Hultzen, the No. 2 overall pick in 2011, said he took a step in the right direction after a rocky Triple-A debut Saturday at Colorado Springs in which he gave up five runs in three innings.
On Thursday, he gave up one earned run, struck out six and walked four in 90 pitches.
“Pretty much everything (I had so-so command of),” Hultzen said. “I couldn’t throw strikes. I couldn’t get ahead of the hitters. When I do, I feel like I have a really good shot at getting guys out.”
It is apparent the 22-year-old is still getting acclimated to his new surroundings. Last week, he pitched in the Southern League All-Star Game. He then got promoted to Triple-A, and faced the Sky Sox.
“Obviously I am not going to make excuses for anything, but there is an adjustment period to everything. It was something I went through in Double-A, something I went through in spring training,” Hultzen said. “My first start in Double-A (on April 8, giving up five runs) wasn’t my best, and it got better from there. So I’ll try and follow that same path, I guess.”
Hultzen breezed through the opening inning with ease, striking out Adeiny Hechavarria looking on a 93-mph fastball, then getting the same result from No. 2 hitter Anthony Gose on a curveball. He threw 10 pitches to get three outs.
But the University of Virginia product labored much of the rest of the game.
Hultzen’s struggles stemmed from fastball command. He was all over – high and low, inside and outside. At one point in the second inning, he walked three of four batters he faced.
With the bases loaded, he gave up his lone run on a bases-loaded walk to Mike McCoy, the 51s’ No. 8 hitter, on a fastball that drifted low and outside of the plate.
To his credit, he limited the damage, getting Jonathan Diaz to weakly pop up in foul territory to first baseman Alex Liddi for the second out, and Hechavarria on a fielder’s choice grounder to shortstop Carlos Triunfel to end the inning.
After that, Hultzen continued battling long at-bats and high pitch-count innings the rest of the way.
He then had 25 pitches in the third, and 23 in the fourth – getting out of a two-on, two-out jam in that last inning by getting Hechavarria to ground out to Triunfel.
“We still have obviously had some deep counts, and high-pitch counts, but you saw in the first inning, he came after guys,” Tacoma manager Daren Brown said. “The stuff is there ... and he will get more efficient. He did it in Double-A, and it is just a matter of time here.”
Hultzen was gone by the start of the fifth inning, leaving with a 3-1 lead but not in line for the win.
The 51s scored six runs off reliever Steven Hensley to break the game open.
Triunfel also had two wild throwing errors in the fifth inning, both sailing into the Las Vegas dugout along the first-base line. ... Darren Ford’s two stolen bases in the first inning Thursday were the most a Tacoma player has had in a game this season. ... Outfielder Trayvon Robinson (knee) ran the bases before the game and took batting practice but he sat out his fifth consecutive game. Brown said it will be another two or three games before he returns. ... Mariners general manager Jack Zduriencik and scouting director Tom McNamara were in attendance. ... A few hundred tickets remain for the Rainiers’ July 3 game and fireworks extravaganza against Fresno.
The three-game series wraps up tonight with Tacoma sending right-hander Brian Sweeney (3-1. 4.62 ERA) to the mound against Las Vegas right-hander Sean O’Sullivan (1-0, 0.00). First pitch is 7:05 p.m.
HULTZEN AT HOME
Left-hander Danny Hultzen, the No. 2 overall pick by the Mariners in 2011, made his home Triple-A debut for the Tacoma Rainiers against Las Vegas on Thursday. Here is how he fared in his four-inning, 90-pitch outing:
INNINGPITCHESFASTBALL RANGEHITS KBB
First1092-93 mph020 Struck out first two hitters; nine of 10 pitches were fastballs.
Second32Reached 94 mph113 Lost fastball command; walked in a run when 3-2 fastball was low, outside.
Third25Mostly 90-92 mph120 Had two eight-pitch at-bats; got both strikeouts on breaking pitches.
Fourth23Reached 96 mph111 Strikeout came on curveball; last out was grounder to firstname.lastname@example.org 253-597-8442 @ManyHatsMilles email@example.com