Over the past 11 years, Derek Hankins has toiled for three Major League organizations and made a trip to the Korean Baseball Organization, where he pitched his team to the championship series. One thing he hadn't done, though, was toss a complete-game shutout.
The 30-year-old changed that Sunday, delivering the first complete-game shutout of his 11-year Minor League career by pitching Triple-A Toledo to a 7-0 win over Rochester in International League action. Hankins (2-3) allowed three hits and struck out four, facing three over the minimum.
"It's been a long time coming, I guess you could say," the 30-year-old said. "It was a good outing. I'd been battling through some tough outings so far, having trouble getting out of the first inning, yadda yadda yadda. We did some great things as a team today, though, and I threw the ball well."
The right-hander held Rochester hitless until Wilkin Ramirez's single with two outs in the fifth. Eric Farriss singled in the sixth and Deibinson Romero added another in the seventh. Twelve of those outs came on groundouts in his 113-pitch gem.
Hankins had pitched fewer than six innings in each of his first seven starts and hadn't thrown a complete game of any kind since 2010, when he was credited with one in a five-inning affair for the Double-A Altoona Curve in the Pirates organization.
His only other professional nine-inning complete game was back in 2005 in the South Atlantic League, when he went the distance for Hickory against Charleston.
Hankins said the key to Sunday's shutout was a mechanical tweak he'd made over the past week or so.
"I've been ... drifting out of the windup," he said. "I've worked on staying back and working downhill. The main thing for me is I'm not going to strike guys out. I'm not blowing guys away at 95 [mph]. I have to pitch to contact and use my defense."
The University of Memphis product was a 10th-round pick by the Pirates in the 2004 Draft and was with the organization until 2010. He spent 2011 and 2012 pitching in the upper levels with the Rangers organization before joining the Tigers in 2013.
The right-hander managed a 3.04 ERA in 17 starts between Double-A Erie and Toledo in 2013 before being released by Detroit to sign a $100,000 contract with Doosan of the Korean Baseball Organization.
Hankins went 3-3 with a 6.23 ERA in 12 regular-season appearances with the Bears, but followed that with 7 2/3 scoreless innings of relief in the first round of the postseason. He estimated that streak reached around 20 innings by the end of the playoffs, helping the team advanced to the Korean Series.
The right-hander took the loss in Game 7 of the championship series, a 7-3 defeat to Samsung, which has won three straight KBO titles. Still, the experience was a unique one for the Effingham, Illinois native, and one he'd love to repeat if the opportunity arose again.
"I can't compare it to here because I've never pitched in the World Series here, but I don't know how it can be any more exciting," he said. "There were 38- or 40-thousand fans at the championship series, and it was complete chaos. They're just such loyal fans, and they really get to know the players.
"We beat LG in the second round, and there were people crying. Fans literally crying basically like when a relative passes away. It was unreal to see how much passion these people have for the sport."
Among the more unique experiences was that the Doosan fans gave Hankins his own cheer, adding a series of drum beats and motions to his walkup song, "Push It," by Rick Ross.
"They had a little drum solo and did kind of like a wave deal and had some wooing sound they made when I took the mound," Hankins said. "It was cool to see."
The Effingham, Illinois native returned stateside this season and has a 5.22 ERA through seven starts.
In the third inning, Toledo first baseman Mike Hessman belted a leadoff homer, his 10th long ball of the season and his 399th as a Minor Leaguer. The latter total ties him for fourth all-time, and he also has 254 International League homers, four shy of the league record.
"He's 110-percent class," Hankins said. "For guys like me who have been around a bit, to see the guys he's rubbing off on, that's nice to see. I think us older guys appreciate that the most, the way he carries himself.
"I don't care what level it is, the Minors or the Majors, you get to 399, 400-plus homers, that's an outstanding career. I'm glad that the Internet is here to recognize something like that, because it's an accomplishment very few people in any league have accomplished."