Clinton Hollon wasn't great in the first inning of his Midwest League debut on Wednesday night, but he was perfect for the rest of it.
"I came into the dugout [after the first] and [manager Ken Huckaby] said, 'You've got the first one over with. Now you can breathe,'" the Blue Jays' 14th-ranked prospect said. "I didn't laugh at the moment because I'm a competitive person, but I can laugh about it now."
Hollon shrugged off the single and two walks he gave up in the opening frame and retired 19 in a row to take him through the seventh and lead Class A Lansing to a 2-1 triumph over visiting Wisconsin.
"Overall, it was great," the 20-year-old right-hander said. "I didn't have the fastball command I usually have and that I wanted to have, and I fell behind a lot of guys, but I made some good pitches to get some outs. The defense was good and consistent behind me. The changeup was good, the curve was good. The slider, I didn't really have. It's been a work-in-progress since the beginning of the season."
Hollon, selected out of a Kentucky high school in the second round of the 2013 Draft, missed all of last season while recovering from Tommy John surgery. He was 2-2 with a 3.18 ERA in nine starts for Class A Short Season Vancouver before earning a promotion to Lansing.
"It was a pretty darn good first impression," Lugnuts pitching coach Jeff Ware said. "I've seen him in instructional leagues, but as far as this year goes, coming off of surgery and he pitched in the Northwest League a little, he shook off his nerves early and settled down."
Timber Rattlers leadoff man Alan Sharkey slapped a single up the middle to spoil Hollon's first at-bat in his new circuit, but Hollon promptly picked him off.
"I take pride in controlling the run game. I pick and mix holds," he said. "It keeps you pitching better and it keeps you on better terms with your catcher if you give him a chance to throw guys out stealing."
Hollon issued free passes to Blake Allemand and Elvis Rubio before getting out of the inning.
"He ended up with only 22 pitches in the first inning ... but he was walking a tightrope there," Ware said. "He was being more aggressive and pitching to contact. If you can do that at the lower levels, you're going to have success."
Hollon didn't think butterflies had much to do with the eventful first inning.
"I don't get really nervous. I'm sure there were some nerves out there -- that's just human nature -- but I don't attribute [the hit and walks] to that," he said. "I just didn't feel comfortable. I was leaking out and missing on my arm side, and I was working hard to make adjustments out there. I worked hard and battled the whole game to get that down."
After the first, his labor wasn't apparent. Even when he fell behind in counts, Hollon moved through six 1-2-3 innings.
"He occasionally fell behind in the count, but he was able to keep the ball down and get out of it. He got 10 ground-ball outs; that's pretty good, especially considering that he was falling behind," Ware said.
"You have to be able to do that. You have to be able to change speeds with your fastball, take a little off when you get into hitters' counts, and if you can do that, you're going to get a lot of rollovers. That's what he was able to do tonight, especially when he was down 2-0, 2-1."
Hollon, whose wife and 10-month-old son will visit him from Kentucky on Friday, treasured the debut but would have been just as thrilled seeing his family, no matter how the start had gone.
"It was a great experience out there," he said, "but I try to separate it -- being a different guy on and off the field and not taking business home because not every night is going to go like tonight. There are going to be struggles, and you can't take that home to your family.
"I work hard and I'm trying to make it to the big leagues because that's been my dream I've had my whole life, but my son doesn't know that yet and my family would love me if I was bagging groceries or making $200 million pitching in the Majors. I can be a great father either way. I'm going to take care of my son either way."
Colton Turner followed Hollon and gave up a run on three hits over 1 2/3 innings before Carlos Ramirez recorded the final out for his fifth save.
Blue Jays No. 12 prospect Dawel Lugo tripled, lifted a sacrifice fly and walked for the Lugnuts. D.J. Davis, ranked right behind Lugo in the Toronto system, also tripled while going 2-for-3 with a run scored.
Josh Jackson is a contributor to MiLB.com.