Danny Hultzen’s Cheney Stadium Debut Wrap-Up
For all the talk of the Rainiers game overshadowing the M’s, I feel weird posting this after what Felix did to the Red Sox tonight. The quotes coming out of the Sox locker room *almost* make me wish I’d stayed home and watched that game. But I wasn’t – I was at a sold-out Cheney Stadium watching Danny Hultzen take on Jamie Moyer and the Las Vegas 51s.
Hultzen’s AAA debut last week in Colorado Springs was something of a disaster: 5 runs and 5 BBs in only 3 IP. Tonight’s was better in every respect, though its length and Hultzen’s struggles in the second inning leave plenty for him to work on. With another 4 walks in tonight’s 4 innings, he’s now up to 9 walks overall in just 7 IP, He’s got 9 strikeout too, but… 9 walks. In Hultzen’s first inning, he used a very well-located fastball that sat at 92 MPH and a sweeping slider that annihilated Blue Jays prospect Anthony Gose. In all, he got through the first on only 10 pitches and picked up two strikeouts. The second inning was a very different story. After a lead-off single, Hultzen suddenly lost his command. It wasn’t one pitch, and it wasn’t just one batter – he was missing up, in, down. He walked the second hitter, then went 3-0 on the next hitter before coming all the way back to get a huge strikeout. After wresting momentum back from the 51s, Hultzen walked the next hitter on four pitches, loading the bases, and walked the 8th hitter in the line-up to force in a run. I’m still not sure what changed; one minute, he was painting the black, and another he couldn’t throw a 3-0 strike. It wasn’t just his fastball – he probably threw more change-ups in that inning than in any other (he threw more of everything in that inning, of course), but couldn’t find the zone with anything. On the positive side, he hit 96 on the gun – this wasn’t just a case of a pitcher reaching back for something extra and missing everything; these “extra’ FBs found the zone about as often as their slower cousins.
Hultzen settled down after the rocky 2nd inning with a relatively quick 3rd, but had to pitch around another walk and single in the fourth and found his pitch count at 90. In his last at-bat, against SS Adeiny Hechevarria, Hultzen hit 96 and 95 before getting the lead-off man to ground out. While it’d be nice to see what he’s capable of later in a game, to maintain peak velocity after 85-90 pitches isn’t insignificant, and it helps reinforce that Hultzen isn’t just a command/control lefty without stuff. His high-end velocity matched Trevor Bauer’s, for example, and Hultzen’s a lefty. To be fair, he also reinforced the fact that he’s not a command/control lefty by demonstrating essentially no command/control at times, and falling behind hitters he has no business falling behind. Even some of the outs – a fly out by punchless #9 hitter Jonathan Diaz comes to mind – were good results on bad pitches; centered fastball that found gloves.
All in all, his slider was perhaps a bit better than I’d heard, with hard break away from left-handed batters. It came in around 80-81, and he ended up using it against both lefties and righties. It got swinging strikes against both, and at one point I thought we might get to witness the humiliating whiff-on-a-HBP that you sometimes see at lower levels. On the other hand, I didn’t see enough of his change-up to really get a feel for the pitch. I’ve seen rapturous reports about it, and others that are more measured, but I’ve always seen it referred to as his primary off-speed pitch, and his primary weapon. Maybe it was a one-game thing, trying to go against a scouting report that would’ve been the only thing the 51s hitters knew about Hultzen. It also could’ve been just a bad day for the pitch, and he shelved it when he saw he wasn’t commanding it. Either way, it was good to see Hultzen fight through without his best stuff and still strike out 6 batters in 4 innings. The painful second inning burned through his pitch count, and Hultzen left after four innings.
Darren Ford led off for Tacoma with an attempted bunt that just went foul, then reached on an IF single. Jamie Moyer was clearly uninterested in holding the speedy Ford on, as the Rainiers CF stole 2B easily and took third shortly after. Moyer struck out Nick Franklin and then Alex Liddi on change-ups, and it looked like he might escape without allowing a run. But Luis Jimenez lined a HR to left-center, illustrating Moyer’s problems with the long ball. After a line-drive single and a walk (to Carlos Peguero), Moyer finally got out of the first. Adam Moore hit another HR in the second, and Nick Franklin lined a shot into the corner in RF for a triple; the overall impression was that Moyer could toy with aggressive hitters like Liddi and Triunfel, but every mistake was hit hard. You can’t really “scout” Jamie Moyer – the batters will tell you how he’s pitching, and through two, it looked like the end of the line for Moyer. But then something changed – I don’t know if a 49 year old has nerves pitching in his second ever PCL start (he got a standing ovation from the Tacoma crowd before the game) or if he was still learning about the Tacoma line-up – and he rattled off 8 straight outs and didn’t give up another run. When the 51s went off on Tacoma reliever Steven Hensley, Moyer ended up the winning pitcher. This isn’t a fairy-tale for him, as his performance wasn’t exactly major league quality on the whole, but it was another step in the strangest career I’ve ever heard about, and I’m glad I got to see it.
If you’re interested, check out Hultzen’s interview after the game that the TNT’s Ryan Divish posted – some good questions, and some fairly forthright answers.