Danny Hultzen's return to the Rainiers could hardly have gone better.
He went six innings, allowing no runs, two hits, with one walk and six strikeouts. Hultzen threw 78 pitches, 52 for strikes.
The Rainiers went on to win, 2-0, over the Las Vegas 51s.
“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 changeups (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 changeup 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.”
Top of sixth: Hultzen caps his inning with a sixth, and probably final, scoreless inning. Ground out, fly out, double by Wilmer Florez (the only extra-base hit against Hultzen), ground out to second. Brian Sweeney spent inning warming up in Tacoma bullpen. (Brad Miller leads off bottom half with home run to right. That one extends Miller's hitting streak to a season-high 22 games. 2-0, Rainiers.)
Top of fifth: Three up, three down again: weak liner to first, strikeout swinging, fly to center. Eleven pitches, eight strikes. He's thrown 64 pitches total -- pitch count probably gets him after the sixth. Six strikeouts. (Tacoma takes 1-0 lead in bottom half as two-out Robert Andino single drives home Nate Tenbrink.)
Top of four: Hultzen survives his first adventure. A leadoff walk, then the second batter gets on by error, and later they both advance on a wild pitch. But the next three batter go stike out, fly out, strike out. Fifty-three pitches, 35 strikes. (0-0 through four.)
Top of third: Hultzen gives up first hit, a weak grounder under Liddi's glove at third. The others go strike out, fly to center, grounder to short. Thirty-five pitches, 25 strikes. (0-0 through three. Both pitchers have faced one over the minimum.)
Top of second: 51s go in order again: fly to right, strikeout, liner to third. Nine pitches, seven strikes, including one curve that had Ike David unable to check his swing on one in the dirt. Speed topped out at 91. (0-0 through two.)
Top of the first: Welcome back Danny Hultzen, who retires Las Vegas in order: ground to short, strikeout, bouncer to third. Thirteen pitches, nine strikes. Fastballs clocked in from 89-91.
Pregame: We'll be giving inning-by-inning updates from Cheney Stadium shortly after 7:05 tonight as Danny Hultzen returns to the mound. The full back story is available in Ryan Divish's story in today's News Tribune.
In general, 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 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, allowing one run, three hits and striking out eight over five innings. He was taken off the disabled list Wednesday and was back on the mound at Cheney Stadium in just a matter of minutes -- weather permitting.
Good seats -- acres of them -- still available.