FRESNO, Calif. — The Tacoma Rainiers’ top-prospect battery of Danny Hultzen and Mike Zunino delivered on opening night in the Pacific Coast League.
Hultzen pitched brilliantly for six innings and catcher Zunino launched a mammoth home run as the Rainiers disposed of the Fresno Grizzlies, 9-1, on Thursday night.
It was an opening game that could not have gone better for the Mariners’ two most recent first-round draft picks.
Hultzen came out firing strikes. He struck out the first two batters, and struck out four in the first two innings.
There was no semblance of the 2012 version of Danny Hultzen – the guy who issued 43 walks in 48 innings for Tacoma last year.
A leadoff walk to Jackson Williams in the third tested his resolve, but unlike last year it did not snowball into additional command problems. Hultzen, the No. 2 overall pick in 2011, easily recorded three outs and left Williams stranded at first.
After allowing a run on a pair of soft hits in the fourth, Hultzen coasted through his final two innings. The left-hander lasted six innings, giving up three hits, one run and two walks. He struck out eight.
“He got ahead of hitters, he stayed ahead, he used both sides of the plate,” Tacoma manager Daren Brown said. “The big thing for me is he went six innings and threw 73 pitches. He was real efficient.”
The offense gave Hultzen a lot of breathing room.
Alex Liddi opened the scoring in the third inning, pulling a sharp line drive to left field for a two-run homer off former teammate Yusmeiro Petit.
Two batters later, Zunino showed why the Mariners drafted him with the third overall pick in June.
Zunino unloaded his power into a Petit fastball, crushing a moon shot to left-center field. The high-arching drive banged into the raised video board an estimated 425 feet from home plate.
“He got that one,” Brown said.
Tacoma added two more runs in the top of the fifth to make it 5-1. A Carlos Peguero line drive that skipped past left fielder Roger Kieschnick for a triple was the center of the rally.
Peguero came through with a two-run double in the sixth, and Zunino followed with a line-drive triple to right as Tacoma tacked on four more runs to make it 9-1.
Tacoma finished with 16 hits. Leadoff man Endy Chavez led the way with a 4-for-6 showing, while Zunino was 2-for-4 with a walk, three runs scored and two RBI.
“We had seven guys with two hits or more,” Brown said.
Infielder Nick Franklin – expected to start at second base – was scratched from the lineup because of flu-like symptoms. … Four members of the Tacoma starting lineup were debuting in Triple-A: second baseman Nate Tenbrink, first baseman Rich Poythress, left fielder Denny Almonte, and Zunino.
Game two of the 2013 season is at 7:07 p.m. today in Fresno. Tacoma will start right-hander Andrew Carraway against Fresno right-hander Chris Heston.
Mike Curto is the radio announcer for the Tacoma Rainiers.