It's no secret that Mark Appel didn't begin the season like the Astros were hoping he would. On Tuesday night, they got more than they could ask for from the top overall pick in last year's Draft.
In the best start of his Minor League career, Houston's second-ranked prospect took a one-hitter into the ninth inning and recorded a career-high 10 strikeouts as Double-A Corpus Christi blanked Frisco, 1-0.
"It was one of those games where everything was working," Appel said. "I was able to locate fastball, locate off-speed. My mentality was to attack hitters and keep attacking. It was just a matter of execution, I was able to execute pretty well. Slider early on in the game was really effective, and once I mixed my changeup in, it really kept them off-balance."
Appel (1-2) allowed a two-out single to Rangers No. 4 prospect Nick Williams in the first, then held the RoughRiders hitless until Hanser Alberto led off the ninth with a double on the Stanford product's 88th and final pitch. The only RoughRider to reach in between was J.T. Wise, who walked with one out in the fifth but was quickly erased on a double play by Odubel Herrera.
"I just tried to execute my pitches, whether they hit it or not. We made some nice plays in the field in those middle innings," said MLB.com's No. 44 overall prospect. "The first hit, the guy put a good swing on a fastball, and the double in the ninth was a first-pitch fastball and I think he was hunting first-pitch fastball and he hit it down the line for a double.
"I felt like I attacked the zone early on in the count and really challenged them with some good pitches. I got to them with pitcher's counts and I was able to make the pitch for the strikeout or groundout or whatever it would be."
The 23-year-old right-hander eclipsed his previous personal best of six innings by keeping his pitch count down. He needed three pitches or fewer to record half of his 24 outs.
"He had three Major League pitches working. That's as good as you can do it. You can't do better," Hooks manager Keith Bodie told the Corpus-Christi Caller Times.
Appel lowered his ERA to 3.15 in six starts since moving up from Class A Advanced Lancaster. The promotion came as a surprise to some since he went 2-5 with a 9.74 ERA and allowed 74 hits, including nine homers, over 44 1/3 innings in 12 California League starts.
Frisco starter Jake Thompson matched Appel for 6 1/3 innings. Texas' No. 6 prospect allowed three hits and three walks while striking out six in his sixth start since coming over from the Tigers organization.
"When two pitchers are throwing well, it's easy to get into a rhythm as a pitcher. I was able to do that as a pitcher, but as far as what he's able to do against our offense, I can't control that," Appel said. "My goal was to keep the Frisco offense at bay and give our team a chance to win. Fortunately, we were able to put one across in the eighth."
Corpus Christi gave Appel a lead when Astros No. 5 prospect Colin Moran singled home Carlos Perdomo with two outs.
Appel had ended the top of the eighth by making Herrera his 10th strikeout victim. But Alberto's double on the first pitch of the ninth brought out Bodie, who summoned Tyson Perez from the bullpen.
"I just wanted to keep pitching, keep continuing to go out and finish the game, but given the situation, coach had to bring in Tyson and I understand that," Appel said. "We have the greatest confidence in [Perez] and he's done a great job in the back end of the bullpen. It's exciting getting to watch Tyson."
Perez issued a pair of walks but struck out Trever Adams to pick up his 11th save.