Here is today’s minor-league report.
At the bottom of this post is a live chat with Danny Hultzen, which began at 1 p.m.
When I was in Tacoma on Monday to write this column on Mike Zunino, I chatted with Tacoma manager Daren Brown about some of the Rainiers’ other prospects, including Hultzen. If there is an injury in the major-league rotation or ineffectiveness that requires a change, Hultzen would seem to be the top candidate to get the call (at least until Jeremy Bonderman is deemed ready — if that happens).
It’s encouraging, therefore, that Hultzen is off to a strong start. In three starts, he’s 2-1 with a 2.70 ERA, allowing 14 hits (one homer) in 16.1 innings pitched. Opponents are hitting .215. Perhaps most importantly, Hultzen has a strikeouts-to-walks ratio of 20 to four — a far cry from the 57 strikeouts and 43 walks he had during a 12-start stint in Tacoma last season. That came after Hultzen had thoroughly dominated Double-A by going 8-3 with a 1.19 ERA, including 79 strikeouts and 32 walks in 75.1 innings. But once he got to Tacoma, Hultzen had major command issues that the Mariners hope were just the byproduct of a grueling debut season as a pro.
“Going off what I saw last year – obviously, what I saw this spring, it wasn’t the same guy,” Brown said. “In July and August, maybe he was a little bit worn down or whatever; I think it’s just going through your first full season. The guy we’re seeing now wasn’t the guy who was here last August. In a good way. I saw it in spring training the first time he threw.”
Hultzen looked very strong in his first few Cactus League appearances until a mild hip flexor strain slowed him down. But he’s fully over that now, and his command appears to be all the way back.
“So far here, he’s gone out Opening Day for us, a solid start,” Brown said. “Second start, he walked the leadoff hitter on four pitches, and then was able to right the ship and get through five, and again a solid start. Sunday, got us into the sixth inning. He gave up three runs (just two earned), and all three runs were two outs, two strikes on the hitter, and a pitch that if it’s popped up, it’s a whole different ballgame.
“I like what I’ve seen so far, three what I would consider solid starts. I think it’s a little more of what it is. Last August I think it was a combination of a lot of things. The main thing being going through his first full season.
So far, Hultzen hasn’t pitched past the sixth inning, and I’m sure the Mariners would like to see him get a little farther in games. His pitch count was in the low 90s last time out, but as a general rule, the Mariners are holding all their Triple-A pitchers to a pitch count of 85 to 90 early in the season.
“We’d like to think we can get to the seventh inning with that,” Brown said. “Sunday, if he hadn’t run into a couple of long counts there in the sixth he would have gotten through the sixth and gotten us into the seventh. I think until it actually warms up a little, they might get four or five starts under their belts until they extend a little bit more.”
All in all, an encouraging start to 2013 for one of the Mariners’ top pitching prospects.