Hultzen, the No. 2 overall pick in the 2011 draft, has missed the better part of the past two seasons because of left-shoulder injuries.

Share story

HOUSTON — The excitement was still lingering in left-hander Danny Hultzen’s voice as he talked to the media less than 24 hours after making his first start of the season for Class AA Jackson.

Hultzen got the start Friday night against the Pensacola Blue Wahoos. With his father and Mariners general manager Jack Zduriencik in attendance, Hultzen pitched 31/3 innings, giving up an unearned run and three hits with a walk and four strikeouts. He threw 58 pitches with 38 strikes.

“It was awesome; I’ve been looking forward to that day for a really long time,” Hultzen said. “ I did my best just to calm down and enjoy it. Sitting out for so long, you get the itch to play really easily.”

Hultzen has missed the better part of the past two seasons because of left-shoulder injuries. The previous time he pitched in a minor-league game was Sept. 1, 2013 for Class AAA Tacoma. He made four starts to open the 2013 season but developed tightness in the shoulder.

After a long stint on the disabled list, he pitched six shutout innings June 20. But the shoulder tightness returned. After dealing with discomfort following a Sept. 1 start, Hultzen opted for reconstructive surgery to repair damage to the labrum, rotator cuff and capsule. He spent the 2014 season rehabbing at the Mariners’ spring-training facility in Peoria, Ariz.

With the shoulder 100 percent this spring, he was cleared for full participation and showed hints of the talent that made him the second overall pick in the 2011 draft.

The Mariners delayed his start to the 2015 season, keeping him at extended spring training for a month to build his arm strength. It’s been difficult to remain patient.

“I definitely had the butterflies going,” he said of Friday’s start.

“After the first few pitches, I calmed down and realized it’s still just baseball and that no matter how long you are away from the game, it’s still baseball.”

Hultzen’s start was just another step in a long process back. And he realizes that.

“I threw a lot of strikes, which was good,” he said. “But there’s obviously some stuff I need to keep working on. I didn’t throw too many good curveballs. I still have things to work on. “

The goal is to remain healthy while polishing up the pitching skills and command.

“Any time after surgery, there’s no guarantee that you get to play again,” he said. “I’m just really happy to be playing again.”

Though Hultzen’s debut was one of the more-anticipated minor-league starts in the organization, the best outing Friday night came in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, where the Mariners’ low Class A affiliate, the Clinton LumberKings, pieced together a three-pitcher no-hitter in a 2-0 win over the Cedar Rapids Kernels.

Right-hander Daniel Missaki did most of the work, throwing seven innings. Reliever Kodi Kerski pitched the eighth, and closer Troy Scott closed out the ninth. Cedar Rapids had two runners reach base — a walk by Missaki and another by Scott.

Missaki, who recently turned 19, was so locked in that he had no idea what was going on until mid-game.

“I think I noticed in the fourth inning,” he said in a phone interview. “I wasn’t thinking about it. I was standing there and saw the scoreboard. I was like, ‘Oh, they don’t have any hits.’ I was just out there having fun all day and trying to help my teammates win.”

At that point, Missaki had been perfect. He walked Trey Vavra with two out in the seventh.

“I didn’t get mad,” he said. “I just kept going.”

After retiring the next hitter to finish the inning, Missaki’s night was over after 74 pitches. At that level, pitch counts are built as the season progresses.

“I wanted to stay in,” he said. “But it’s too early in the season.”

So Missaki stood in the dugout and watched Kerski work a 1-2-3 eighth inning with two strikeouts.

“I was a little bit nervous watching,” he said.

In the ninth, Scott got two quick outs but walked a hitter, bringing Nick Gordon, one of the Midwest League’s top hitters, to the plate. But Scott struck out Gordon to end the game and set off a celebration.

“It was amazing,” Missaki said.

Had he ever been a part of a no-hitter?

“No. Never,” he said with a laugh. “It was my first time.”

Missaki is far from a dominating presence at 6 feet and 160 pounds. Born in Japan and raised in Brazil, he was signed in 2013 as an undrafted free agent.

He has a 1-1 record in five starts with a 3.68 ERA. In 291/3 innings, and he’s struck out 30 batters and walked just four.

“Fastball command and keep it down in the zone,” he said.

“I’m a guy that attacks hitters and make them make contact.”