After two months away rehabbing a strained rotator cuff, Danny Hultzen’s return to the mound for the Tacoma Rainiers could hardly have gone better.
The top-tier Seattle Mariners prospect threw six shutout innings in leading the Rainiers to a 2-0 win over the Las Vegas 51s on Thursday before a crowd of 4,227 at Cheney Stadium.
“The big story of the game tonight was Danny Hultzen coming in here off of an injury and being able to come in here and throw six innings of two-hit baseball, one walk, six strikeouts,” Rainiers manager John Stearns said. “He really was calm, cool and collected on the mound. He had fastball command. His secondary pitches were down in the zone. If he pitches like that – if he keeps his ball down in the zone and throws like that – he’s going to have a really fine career in front of him.”
According to scouts in attendance, Hultzen threw 51 fastballs (36 strikes), 17 change-ups (12 strikes) and 10 curves (four strikes). He threw first-pitch strikes to 14 of the 22 batters he faced.
“I’m happy with the way it went,” Hultzen said. “I’m happy to be out there again.
(My change-up is) something I’ve been working on; not trying to be too perfect with it, and throwing it for a strike, and I think that’s helped that a lot.
“Any movement with it is an extra bonus, but I’m just trying to throw it for a strike.”
Hultzen is in his second professional season after being taken second overall in the 2011 draft. He opened 2013 as the No. 3 prospect in the Mariners’ farm system according to Baseball America, and as the No. 16 prospect in all of minor league baseball, according to MLB.com.
He started the season in Tacoma and went 3-1 with a 2.78 earned-run average. However, he was scratched before his scheduled start at Las Vegas on April 25 when he couldn’t get loose in the bullpen. The problem eventually was diagnosed as a left rotator cuff strain. He was put on the disabled list April 29.
Hultzen returned to action Saturday with a rehab start for Peoria of the Arizona League, where he allowed one run, three hits and struck out eight over five innings.
He was taken off the disabled list Wednesday, and showed why on Thursday.
Hultzen reached his pitch count after six innings, then gave way to Brian Sweeney, Brandon Moran and Logan Bawcom, who preserved the shutout.
It was the first time the Rainiers threw back-to-back shutouts since May 2010 and the team extended its season-high shutout streak to 22 consecutive innings.
Offensively, Brad Miller extended his team-high hitting steak to 22 games with two hits, including a home run to right in the sixth.
Afterward, he was rewarded with a promotion to Seattle.
Stearns said he looks forward to the day he might be able to deliver similarly happy news to Hultzen.
“I hope that that one is coming soon,” he said. “You never can tell when these things are going to happen. It’s almost amazing when something like that happens. Brad had his tears, and I was choking up a little bit. It’s something you’ll always remember.”
Tacoma (48-33) and Las Vegas (40-38) continue the series at 7:05 p.m. Friday on 850-AM. The probable pitching matchup sends Tacoma left-hander James Paxton (4-5, 4.75 ERA) against right-hander D.J. Mitchell (4-3, 7.42).
Don Ruiz: 253-597-8808