Tuesday night produced a number of firsts for Mark Appel, but there was one that stood out as more important than the others -- Quad Cities' place in the Midwest League standings.
The top overall pick in this year's Draft pitched a career-high five innings and recorded the first victory over his brief Minor League career as the River Bandits defeated Cedar Rapids, 7-2.
"Wins are the stat that pitchers try to go for," Appel said after helping Quad Cities climb atop the Western Division second-half standings. "I think getting that first pro win is nice, but it's much better that the team won."
The Astros' No. 4 prospect limited the Kernels to two unearned runs on two hits, maintaining a 12-to-2 groundout-to-flyout ratio while striking out two batters and walking one.
Appel has been stellar since throwing four scoreless frames against Dayton in his Class A debut on July 14. Through five starts with the River Bandits, he's posted a 2.29 ERA with 16 strikeouts, six walks and a .200 opponents' batting average in 19 2/3 innings.
Appel, ranked 28th on MLB.com's list of Top 100 Prospects, was perfect for 3 1/3 innings, inducing eight groundouts. After issuing a one-out walk to Niko Goodrum in the fourth, he struck out Jorge Polanco and retired Adam Walker on another ground ball.
Cedar Rapids scratched out a pair of unearned runs in the fifth. Max Kepler reached on an error to open the inning and, after Travis Harrison flied out, Tyler Grimes dropped a single into right field. Kepler and Grimes moved to second and third, respectively, on Bo Altobelli's groundout and scored on Joel Licon's single to right. Appel ended the inning by getting Jonathan Murphy on a bouncer to shortstop.
"I tried to pound the bottom of the zone," Appel said. "I established early with the fastball and got to the off-speed when I needed to. I think I executed pretty well. I had a walk in the fourth and a couple hits in the fifth, but for the most part, I thought I did a good job of that."
Pitch counts have left Appel with much lighter workloads than he was used to at Stanford University, but the 22-year-old right-hander is finding that by pitching to contact, he can reach the five-inning minimum for getting a win. On Tuesday, he said he needed fewer than 30 pitches to get through the first three innings, which allowed him to work a full five.
"I felt good. I could've gone out there for another one or two innings," he said. "You never enjoy being taken out, but those aren't my decisions to be made. I'm not going to complain about it or anything like that. I guess I understand that there's a bigger picture to everything.
"Right now, I might want to go out and pitch more, but the Astros have a plan for me for what's expected from me this summer. I feel like this is a time for me to get acclimated with the Astros organization and really prepare for my first full season next year."
Appel's promotion to the Midwest League after two starts for short-season Tri-City has allowed him to get a firsthand look at the No. 1 overall pick from the 2012 Draft and Astros top prospect Carlos Correa. The 18-year-old shortstop was 2-for-4 with a pair of doubles Tuesday, driving in a run and scoring another.
Correa is 12-for-18 in his past four games and is batting .462 with six doubles and nine RBIs in his last 10 contests.
"He's got it all," Appel said. "He fields great and has a strong arm. He hits well. He's a balanced hitter and is probably the toughest out in our lineup. He's a great player, and the best thing about him is he's still just 18. The sky's the limit for him."
Patrick Christensen relieved Appel and fanned five over three one-hit innings. Mitchell Lambson struck out three around a hit in the ninth.