Globe iconLogin iconRecap iconSearch iconTickets icon

Szapucki strikes out 13 in Appy debut

Mets No. 17 prospect gives up two hits over six shutout innings
June 23, 2016

Thomas Szapucki didn't look like a pitcher who hadn't started a game in more than a year.

The lanky left-hander recorded 13 strikeouts and allowed two hits over six scoreless innings on Thursday night as Rookie-level Kingport dropped a rain-shortened, 4-3 decision to Elizabethton in the Appalachian League opener for both teams.

Szapucki struck out the side three times in his first start since high school.

"This kid is young, but he has good stuff," Mets manager Luis Rivera said. "His stuff played well. We talked about his plan and he executed [and] mixed his pitches the right way. His out pitch today -- the curveball -- was really effective."

Szapucki fanned Bryant Hayman to end the first inning for his first strikeout after allowing a single to Jaylin Davis. He proceeded to strike out the side in the second -- all three batters went down swinging -- and whiffed Robert Molina to start the third for his fifth straight strikeout.

"He's got a good fastball in the mid-90s and tops [out at] 97," Rivera said. "He was trying to be aggressive and get ahead with his fastball, trying to use his secondary pitches like his changeup off his fastball. He has good command with his fastball and can throw it at any time in the count. He hit the outside corner really well, and that helped a lot tonight."

The 20-year-old southpaw got a little erratic in the third, hitting Andre Jernigan and uncorking a wild pitch. But he struck out Ariel Montesino and retired Travis Blankenhorn on a groundout to get out of trouble.

"He got wild for one at-bat and fell behind in the count, but that happens for a young kid like that," Rivera said. "The good thing is that he didn't let that bother him. He stayed focused, and that's what we have to see -- how kids react."

Five of Szapucki's next six outs came via strikeouts and, after allowing a leadoff single to Montesino in the sixth, the Florida native got Blankenhorn to go down swinging before whiffing Davis as part of a strike-'em-out, throw-'em-out double play, spelling the end of his night. He was efficient despite the high strikeout total, throwing 79 pitches, but there wasn't much consideration to let him go any longer.

"His limit was 85 and we took him out before he hit that limit," Rivera said. "For now, he's going to be [around 85] for a little bit. Whenever our pitching coordinator decides to increase it, we'll make that adjustment. He's still young and it's just the beginning of the season."

Selected in the fifth round of last year's Draft out of a Palm Beach Gardens, Florida, high school, Szapucki checks in as the Mets' No. 17 prospect and the de facto ace of the Kingsport staff -- a fact that isn't lost on Rivera when evaluating his performance.

"For a guy his age, a young kid, that's why he's our No. 1 guy and that's why he got drafted out of high school," the manager said. "He's got good potential and good stuff. If he continues to work hard and stay focused, I think he can have a bright future because his stuff plays well."

Placido Torres worked a scoreless seventh for the Mets before giving way to Gregorix Estevez, who allowed back-to-back homers -- a three-run blast to Blankenhorn and a solo shot to Davis -- to surrender the lead.

The game was delayed for more than an hour due to rain in the middle of the ninth before it was called.

"It was a tough decision. I wanted to keep playing, but it was pouring and we waited for an hour and it was going to continue raining for a couple more hours," Rivera said. "It's not worth it in the first game of the season."

The Mets totaled three hits, bunching them in a four-batter span of a three-run second. Walter Rasquin tripled home Jeremy Wolf, who drew a leadoff walk, and Dionis Rodriguez doubled two batters later to score Rasquin. Franklin Correa also doubled, plating Rodriguez and giving Szapucki a cushion with which to work.

Wolf walked three times, while Anthony Dimino drew two free passes. 

Twins starter Jose Martinez lasted 1 1/3 innings and was charged with three runs on three hits and a walk while striking out two.

Chris Tripodi is an editor for Follow him on Twitter@christripodi.