Danny Hultzen still doesn’t have the dominant performance the Tacoma Rainiers are expecting.
He labored through the first three innings Tuesday night, left after five and, just like in his previous two starts, used too many pitches in too few innings.
But after earning his first win with the Rainiers in an 8-2 victory against the Fresno Grizzlies at Cheney Stadium, Hultzen is showing improvement and glimpses of why he can be a top pitcher.
“I threw a lot more strikes tonight,” Hultzen said. “I wasn’t falling behind on as many guys tonight. I still gave up too many walks, but I’m getting better, and that is all I can ask for.”
Hultzen used 65 pitches and allowed two runners to score (one earned) through the first three innings, but Fresno could have made it worse.
The Grizzlies got to him in the second inning on Brock Bond’s sacrifice fly with the bases loaded to bring home the game’s first run – unearned because Mike Wilson dropped a fly ball earlier in the inning.
Fresno added another run in the third, but Hultzen forced Jackson Williams into an inning-ending double play with runners at first and third to again escape with limited damage.
“That was good to see,” Rainiers manager Daren Brown said. “He made pitches to get outs when he needed them. It tells you about his mentality and his competitiveness, which are some things we really like about him.”
Tacoma hitters didn’t make Fresno starter Jason Stevenson work quite as hard – they didn’t need to.
They crushed what was thrown to them.
Carlos Peguero continued his power surge by leading off the second inning with a home run over the right-field wall – his fifth homer in four games. Wilson made it back-to-back homers with one over the left-field wall to put the Rainiers ahead, 2-1.
Wilson hit another homer over the left-field wall his next at-bat to give Hultzen some breathing room.
That’s when the overall No. 2 pick in 2011 by Seattle finally found some rhythm.
Hultzen used 29 pitches to get through the next two innings, striking out three, before being relieved by Steven Hensley in the sixth.
Hultzen threw five innings, using 94 pitches, 60 for strikes, with six strikeouts, three walks and one hit batter.
“He is throwing more pitches than we would like his first three starts, but he has gotten better with each one,” Brown said. “He has shown he has good stuff. That’s why we took him where we took him in the draft. When he gets it all in the strike zone, he is tough.”
The win was Hultzen’s first as a Rainier and his longest outing. He used 81 pitches in three innings his first start and needed 90 in four innings the next one.
The difference Tuesday was his touted change-up. Hultzen used it more than his previous two starts.
“That just comes from throwing more strikes,” Hultzen said. “If I can throw more strikes with my fastball, that opens up more opportunities to use my change-up.”
The Rainiers broke the game open with four runs in the sixth. Nick Franklin’s double drove home Peguero and Alex Liddi before Darren Ford’s two-out, bases-loaded double scored two more.
Tacoma ended a 2-2 tie in the third inning when Ford led off with a triple, and Liddi brought him home with a sacrifice fly to right field.
Hensley and Jarrett Grube combined to pitch four innings of scoreless relief.
Peguero has hit a home run in four consecutive games, the first time a Rainiers player has done it since Wladimir Balentien in July of 2008. ... Trayvon Robinson started at designated hitter in his first game back after missing 10 games with a knee injury. ... Luis Jimenez, who will start for the Rainiers at the Triple-A All-Star Game in Buffalo, missed the game with an elbow injury suffered in the celebration following Monday’s 12-inning victory.
The Rainiers hit the road for a five-game series against the Salt Lake Bees starting at 6:05 p.m. (PDT) today. Tacoma sends right-hander Brian Sweeney (3-3, 4.53 ERA) against Matt Shoemaker (5-7, 5.28).