SURPRISE, Ariz. — Danny Hultzen hasn’t given up hope of still making the Seattle Mariners’ starting rotation this spring.
On Wednesday, he took a step toward getting back into the competition by throwing a scoreless inning against the Kansas City Royals in the Mariners’ 4-2 loss at Surprise Stadium.
After being scratched from his previous scheduled start and missing a week with a mild hip flexor strain, Hultzen happily returned to the mound.
“It felt good to be out there again,” he said.
Hultzen looked good in his one inning of work, in which he gave up a leadoff double to Lorenzo Cain, then battled back to retire Endy Chavez (pop to right), Chris Getz (grounder to shortstop) and Alex Gordon (fly to left) — all big league players — to end the inning. He has yet to allow an earned run this spring in three appearances and four innings pitched.
Still, the leadoff double to Cain was irksome. He threw two great two-seam fastballs — one on the outside corner and the other on the inside corner — for called strikes to get ahead in the count 0-2.
For the next pitch, catcher Kelly Shoppach called for a curveball and wanted it down and away, even in the dirt, just nowhere near the strike zone.
Instead Hultzen hung it and Cain ripped it into the left-center gap.
“He crushed it,” Hultzen said. “I knew where it was supposed to go, but I just didn’t do it that time. Lesson learned.”
Thanks to previous lessons, Hultzen didn’t panic with the leadoff hitter on second.
“I tried to not dwell on it,” he said. “In my recent history, I’d think about it too much. I just tried to move on. I did my best to do that.”
He calmly attacked Chavez to get that first out.
After retiring Getz on an infield ground ball, Hultzen faced the dangerous Gordon. He fell behind 2-0, but threw a tough 92 mph fastball that Gordon fouled off. Hultzen came back with a slider on the next pitch and got Gordon to pop up to left field.
It was a good return for Hultzen, whom the Mariners took with the No. 2 overall pick of the 2011 amateur draft, and it pleased manager Eric Wedge.
“We’ll work him back in,” Wedge said. “We wanted to make sure he just got one in today. We’ll see how he feels tomorrow. He said he felt good and he obviously looked good.”
The hip was not an issue for Hultzen.
“I’m past it,” he said. “Hopefully, it isn’t going to come back. I’m going to keep doing some preventive work just to make sure it doesn’t happen, but it felt good today.”
But the bigger question for Hultzen is whether he still has a chance to make the rotation. Of the four top pitching prospects in the system, Hultzen and Brandon Maurer have had the two best performances this spring thus far, while Taijuan Walker and James Paxton appear ticketed for more seasoning in the minors.
Still, both Hultzen and Maurer’s chances of making the starting rotation are relatively low, and Hultzen knows that. He just wants more chances to show Wedge, pitching coach Carl Willis and general manager Jack Zduriencik what he can do.
With more than 15 games remaining, he may get those chances, but that is up to Wedge. Even if Wedge isn’t really considering Hultzen for the rotation, a few more outings against big league hitters would be beneficial for his growth. He could definitely leave an even better impression on Wedge going into the season.
“I want to throw as much as possible. You can’t impress anyone on the bench,” Hultzen said. “I just hope I get a couple more chances and keep it going.”
MILLER STILL SMILING
A day after hitting his first Cactus League home run, Mariners shortstop prospect Brad Miller was still grinning — though that’s really not much of a change in disposition for the enthusiastic infielder.
Miller knows he’s ticketed for the minor leagues, so he is savoring his time in big league camp before eventually being sent down.
“It’s been awesome just getting to be around everybody …,” he said. “Last year I got to come over a couple (of) times to sit on the bench, but just being around everybody and trying to pick up everything from all the guys has been great. And just getting a lot of action, too, getting out there playing and trying to take advantage of that opportunity.”
Miller has gotten the attention of Wedge, who likes Miller’s intensity and old-school approach to the game.
“He’s a good young player,” Wedge said. “He’s a heady player. The ball jumps off his bat. He’s able to hang in there good against left-handers. And as you’ve seen, we’ve played him at second, short and third. He’s young, but very mature for his age, both on and off the field.”
As for the home run, Miller didn’t think it was going out of the park and may have set an unofficial speed record in rounding the bases.
“I was hauling … I’m like, ‘OK, (the outfielder’s) playing the bounce off the wall. I’m going three.’ But then I saw the umpire or heard the fans … and I was, ‘OK, I’ll take that.’ ”
Even after Miller knew it was gone, he still rounded the remaining bases quickly.
“It felt good to put a good swing on it and get after a ball,” he said.