The left-hander, the No. 2 overall pick in the 2011 draft who missed last season because of shoulder surgery, pitches a scoreless inning in his spring debut.
PEORIA, Ariz. — The bullpen door opened, and Danny Hultzen began to run. But this wasn’t some leisurely jog across the emerald grass in the outfield of Peoria Stadium. No, this was a full-on sprint toward the pitcher’s mound — a place he has been desperate to reach all spring. There was no taking his time like Fernando Rodney. Hultzen ran as if he were worried someone else might beat him to the mound and take away his long-awaited chance to pitch.
“I was excited,” he said with an excited tone. “I had a couple butterflies going, and I just wanted out there as soon as I could.”
Hultzen made his Cactus League debut Wednesday in front of a crowd of 6,540, throwing one inning in relief of starter of Erasmo Ramirez.
Rockies 4, Mariners 1
Notable: At Peoria Stadium, a few more minor mistakes in the field and a pair of hard hit doubles from Ryan Casteel and Kyle Parker off of Seattle lefty Lucas Luetge turned a 1-1 tie into 4-1 deficit in the top of the ninth. Erasmo Ramirez gave the Mariners a solid start, working three innings and giving up one run --an impressive line-drive, solo homer by Troy Tulowitzki in the first inning -- and two hits, striking out two and walking none. Tom Wilhelmsen looked sharp in his first Cactus League outing of the season, working a scoreless inning. ... Reserve Endy Chavez had a pair of singles in his two at-bats.
Player of the game: Kyle Seager should have had three hits in the game, but instead he was credited with just one, which accounted for the Mariners’ only run. Seager’s fly ball off Sean Berman in the third inning had just enough distance to clear the right-field wall and for his first homer of the spring. It might have been the least-hard-hit ball of his three at-bats. In the first inning, he hit a rocket line drive toward left-center. It seemed likely to score Seth Smith from second with ease. But shortstop Tulowitzki made a brilliant, leaping snag. In the fifth inning with Justin Ruggiano on second, Seager’s sharp ground ball down the first-base line was gloved by a diving Ben Paulsen to save a run and record an out.
Quotable: “The first at-bat -- the line drive to shortstop — for me you have to be in better position to do that than the other one (solo homer). So I was just excited about that one as the one I got results on.” — Seager.
On tap: The Mariners will travel to Mesa to visit the refurbished home of the Oakland A’s — HoHoKam Stadium. Right-hander Jordan Pries will start for Seattle, and lefty Scott Kazmir will go for the A’s. The game has been moved up to 12:05 p.m. to accommodate comedian Will Ferrell and a television crew that will film him playing an inning for each team. The game will be broadcast live on mariners.com.
To the outsider, it was just one scoreless inning pitched in a meaningless spring-training game. But to Hultzen and the Mariners, it was so much more.
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It was his first game action since his 25-pitch performance in the Arizona instructional league at the end of September. Before that, the last real game he’d pitched in was on Sept. 1, 2013. A month later, he underwent an extensive reconstructive surgery to his ailing shoulder, repairing partial tears to the rotator cuff, labrum and anterior capsule in his throwing shoulder.
The time spent since then has been a grueling, step-by-step journey of pain, recovery, strength-building and a constant battle against self-doubt as he tried to rehabilitate his surgically repaired shoulder.
That one inning represented a huge step in his recovery and his hopeful return to the pitcher that made him the No. 2 overall pick of the 2011 draft.
“I’ve been looking forward to this for a long time,” Hultzen said, his voice shaking a little with emotion. “It’s been a really long road. To be able to come back and pitch again is incredible. There were times I doubted if I could ever come back again. I’m through that now and really, really happy I can play baseball again.”
The cathartic feeling of just standing on the mound in a game with his teammates and friends watching and cheering him on had his heart racing.
He didn’t even notice that the first batter he would face was Rockies All-Star shortstop Troy Tulowitzki, who had homered in his previous at-bat.
“That was crazy,” Hultzen said. “I was just focused on warming up. I’m not used to coming out of the bullpen, so I’m not really thinking about who is coming up. So that was cool to pitch to him for the first time.”
Hultzen’s first pitch to Tulowitzki was a perfect, 93 mph fastball on the inside corner. Up a strike, Hultzen tried to come back with a changeup to catch Tulowitzki off balance. Instead, he “spiked” the pitch, throwing it into the dirt a few feet in front of the plate.
Hultzen came back with another fastball on the inside corner that Tulowitzki watched for Strike 2. But another spiked changeup and missed slider moved the count to full. Hultzen walked Tulowitzki on a 95 mph fastball that was low.
“I was a little emotional those first few pitches,” he said. “I was a little too excited.”
But he was able to harness his emotions and the changeup against the next hitter, Wilin Rosario, who had homered twice against the Mariners on Monday in Scottsdale. Ahead 0-2, Hultzen threw a sinking changeup that Rosario rolled over, hitting a weak ground ball to Kyle Seager, who started a 5-4-3 double play.
Hultzen then got Ben Paulsen to ground out. He threw 12 pitches, eight of them strikes.
“Other than those two changeups, I threw everything for strikes,” he said. “And I came back and threw a changeup for a strike. Just the emotions of it, I was trying to get through. I wasn’t thinking too much, just kind of throwing it and seeing what happened. After those first couple, I was able to calm down and focus on the actual pitches.”
After Hultzen got the last out, he barely took any time to enjoy his accomplishment, bounding off the mound and to the dugout where manager Lloyd McClendon had a handshake for him and his teammates were waiting to congratulate him.
“I was very pleased,” McClendon said. “I was nervous for him, but he did a nice job. His velocity was 93-95. He threw a couple of good breaking balls and bounced a few of them, but probably some jitters.”
Even his teammates, who have seen him endure the long recovery, had jitters.
“That was awesome,” shortstop Brad Miller said. “Me and CT (Chris Taylor) were out there, and CT has obviously played with him since college (and) he said, ‘I’m even a little nervous for him.’ It was just so good to see. He’s worked hard.”