The photo above is of Danny Hultzen pitching in the second inning today in Jackson, Tenn., a game that drew 851 fans to Pringles Park. Yeah, 851. It wasn’t Hultzen at his best, but it wasn’t like it was a disaster, either. He shut out the Tennessee Smokies for the first four innings on just two hits — a well-placed broken-bat double down the left-field line to the first batter he faced, and an even better placed bloop double down the right-field line with one out in the second. In both instances, he pitched out of it with a nice mix of pitches, and had three strikeouts after two innings.
But Hultzen may have tired on a warm day, and the fifth inning was a big struggle. With Jackson leading 2-0, he walked the first hitter, then gave up two sharp singles for a run. After a sacrifice, the Tennessee batter nubbed one in front of the plate, and Hultzen’s hurried throw drew the first baseman off the bag for an error on the pitcher. The Smokies’ No. 3 hitter, Jae-Hoon Ha, hit a slow roller to shortstop on which the General just missed turning an inning-ending double play as another run scored. A solid single to center brought in a third run, and after Hultzen hit the next batter — barely hit him; his shirt was puffed out,and the ball nicked the jersey — manager Jim Pankovits yanked Hultzen. His final line: 4 2/3 innings, 5 hits, 3 runs, 1 earned run, 1 walk, 4 strikeouts. Both the runs that scored after Hultzen’s error were unearned.
That outing actually dropped Hultzen’s ERA from 2.08 to 2.05, but he wasn’t happy with the performance.
“Not at my best,” he said after the game, a 5-3 Jackson loss in 10 innings that snapped their six-game winning streak. “I had a good first few innings, then I started making bad pitches in bad situations, and that’s what happens. A rough fifth inning. Tough outing, I guess. That’s when it matters, later in the game. It’s something I have to work on.”
Hultzen admitted the throwing error frustrated him. “Especially when you make the mistake, you feel even more responsible,” he said. “That could have changed the inning if I made the throw, obviously.”
Pankovits said “Danny wasn’t sharp from the start, really. He didn’t have real good fastball command, and wasn’t able to set up his changeup. He has a great changeup, but he needs to be able to locate his fastball. He wasn’t able to get ahead, and got a little tired there in fifth. He’ll bounce back. He has before.”
At this level, some struggles aren’t necessarily a bad thing, particularly for top-rated pitchers who have dominated their whole lives.
“Everyone has to struggle at some point,” Pankovits said. “You’d rather they struggle here than when they get to the big leagues, so they can learn from it. He’s a very intelligent kid, and I’m sure he learned a lot today.”
That’s Taijuan Walker (right) and Brandon Maurer playing catch before the game as James Paxton gets some running in. You might want to get your hands on some Crawdad’s Classics, official hot sauce of the Jackson Generals, as seen on the outfield wall. Honest to God slogan: “It Don’t Get No Better Than This!”