When Chris Withrow looks back on the 2008 season, his best explanation is to call it an adventure.
He still isn't sure whether it was a glitch in his mechanics that caused the tendinitis in his elbow that limited him to only four innings or something else. All he's focused on now is moving forward.
The 6-foot-3 right-hander proved just how happy he is to be back on the mound Sunday, throwing five hitless innings in the Inland Empire 66ers' 7-2 victory over the Rancho Cucamonga Quakes.
"Just to get out there was a step in the right direction," Withrow said. "I guess I got a little bit lucky today with the actual results and the guys behind me making some great plays."
The 66ers' bid for a no-hitter was broken up when former Pioneer League All-Star Jay Brossman led off the eighth with a double to left field.
But the day belonged to Withrow, who was making his first start since Aug. 21, 2007, in the Gulf Coast League. Inland Empire pitching coach Charlie Hough said the right-hander's fastball hit 96 mph, and he was able to put it where he wanted, setting up his off-speed pitches.
"He's a special kid," Hough said. "It was nice to see that composure out there. Everything about today for him was nice to see."
Withrow, a 2007 first-round Draft pick, struck out the side in the first. He ended up fanning six while walking two and knows not every game will seem as easy as Sunday's win. But he's also aware this performance goes a long way toward proving to himself and the organization that his elbow trouble is behind him.
"There's things that I learned today that I can build on and use in the future that will make me better," Withrow said. "I've got a great pitching coach in Charlie Hough. He's able to put things into a way that you're really able to use them. He makes things a lot simpler."
Hough said Withrow's pitch count was low enough that he could have let the 20-year-old go one more inning. But he didn't think it would have added to the start. After all, he'd already thrown more in one game than he had all of last season. And five hitless innings seemed like enough to help the youngster put his 2008 adventure behind him.
Mason Kelley is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.