Members of the West Michigan pitching staff issued a challenge to each other at the beginning of the season: Be the first to throw seven innings in a start. Although nothing more than bragging rights was on the line, the competition was meant as a way to push the starters.
Thomas Collier accepted the challenge Friday.
The 22-year-old right-hander became the first Whitecap to toss seven frames this season, allowing just one hit, before West Michigan dropped a 3-2, 12-inning decision to the Fort Wayne TinCaps.
Collier struck out five and walked two in the longest outing of his two-year professional career.
"Everything was working," he said. "I thought my fastball was up in the zone. I was able to establish my changeup and go to that early. Eventually, I think my fastball sneaked up on some hitters. I got some curveballs in there, too, so it went well, all in all."
Collier was perfect until Jace Peterson reached on an error by first baseman Aaron Westlake leading off the fourth. An inning later, Austin Hedges singled through the left side of the infield to give the TinCaps their only hit off the Houston native.
"It's unfortunate," he said. "I thought I shook it off fairly well after though. I thought I threw a good pitch, but the hit got to a hole. I'm so happy though. I reached my first goal of seven innings, and I had to work hard to get there. I'll take that."
Collier is 2-1 with a 2.12 ERA and 0.97 WHIP, with the latter two marks leading the Whitecaps. He was selected by the Tigers in the 22nd round of last year's Draft after injury concerns -- he underwent Tommy John surgery in April 2010 -- caused his stock to drop.
However, Collier was 13-1 with a 2.67 ERA in 16 games at San Jacinto College North in 2011 and showed improvement last summer in the Cape Cod League, where he went 3-1 with a 1.04 ERA in five starts. In his first seven starts for short-season Connecticut to end the year, he owned a 1.85 ERA and held opponents to a .203 average.
Collier noted that his successful 2011 campaign across all levels has helped him in the early going this year.
"It's hard, I expect good things," he said. "I am always trying to find something new to work on, and that's what I was doing a lot of this Spring Training. But, yeah, after the way last year ended, I'd definitely say it carried over a lot to this year. I have a little bit more confidence and I trust my stuff a lot."
Warwick Saupold allowed two unearned runs in the eighth as the TinCaps forced extra innings. Hedges lifted a sacrifice fly to score Travis Whitmore with the go-ahead run in the 12th.
Chad Wright went 5-for-6 with a triple and an RBI for the Whitecaps.