In a rotation featuring three former first-round picks, Daniel Winkler could be the forgotten man. For six innings Thursday night, he was anything but.
Winkler took a no-hitter into the seventh inning, striking out three and walking a pair, but ended up suffering the hard-luck loss as Double-A Tulsa fell to Corpus Christi, 6-0.
The reigning California League Pitcher of the Year, Winkler might be overshadowed in a rotation that includes the Rockies' top two prospects, Jon Gray and Eddie Butler, as well as 2011 first-rounder Tyler Anderson. But in his second Texas League start of the season, Winkler commanded the spotlight.
"I actually didn't feel that good at the beginning," Winkler said. "I wasn't very good in the 'pen which actually probably helped me in the game. I was more focused on pitch to pitch."
Winkler issued a walk to Corpus Christi's Andrew Aplin with two outs in the bottom of the first inning and then proceeded to retire the next 16 consecutive Hooks he faced. The Tulsa right-hander struck out Nolan Fontana in the first and Jiovanni Mier leading off both the third and sixth innings.
"The wind was blowing straight in my face in the 'pen," said Winkler. "Once I got out there, it was more just sticking with my mechanics and taking it pitch by pitch and trusting my catcher [Tom Murphy]. Once I did that, instead of thinking about hitters and things like that, I started to settle down."
Winkler and Murphy are roommates and were promoted to Double-A on the same day last year. This season, Murphy is tasked with handling a talent-laden rotation that has posted a 1.78 ERA through seven games.
"I trust 'Murph,'" Winkler said. "It was basically all him today. There were a couple times I shook off, but the last two times, Murph's just in tune. He's been in tune with what I want to do. We discussed between innings what we think should've went down or what we could've done better, what we did well. Basically whatever Murph put down today, that's what I threw. He's a great game-caller. Having a catcher like that is invaluable."
Despite a rash of hits, the Drillers were unable to get their starter a lead. Brian Humphries was thrown out at the plate to end the second, the closest his team came to scoring despite a 10-6 advantage in the hit column.
Winkler faltered in the seventh. The 24-year-old issued a leadoff walk to Fontana and Andrew Aplin singled to put runners at the corners in a scoreless game and end Winkler's night. Reliever Carlos Hernandez allowed back-to-back RBI singles to Matt Duffy and Preston Tucker and surrendered four total in the seventh. Winkler was charged with two runs on one hit to close the book on his day.
Aplin and Duffy added RBIs against Tulsa's Nate Striz in the eighth to put the game out of reach.
"The takeaway is to not be selfish," Winkler said of the late downturn to his impressive night. "In the seventh inning, the leadoff batter Fontana comes up, and instead of sticking with my plan, I'm thinking about not giving up a hit. That's what frustrated me the most. Then Aplin comes up and puts a pretty good swing on a changeup down, and then my night's over. I left kind of frustrated. I forgot about the other six innings and was frustrated with myself, but it's part of the game and something that's a learning situation."
Corpus Christi starter Ross Seaton blanked Tulsa on five hits while striking out six and walking one over five innings. Hooks reliever Luis Cruz earned the win, scattering four hits over three innings.
Winkler, who tossed 5 1/3 scoreless innings last week in his season debut, will move on to his third start the same way he approached Thursday.
"Forget about it. It's over with," he said. "It's kind of like on a bad outing. The next day, it's over with. It's done with. You've got to prepare for the next start and the next start, I've got to stick with my plan all the way out. Just attack the zone and stick with my plan."