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Houston gets surprise start in Tulsa

Drillers right-hander fills in for Cabrera, helps North to victory
June 28, 2012
TULSA, Okla. -- Tulsa right-hander Dan Houston didn't wait to hear from manager Duane Espy that he was going to be the starter for the North Division in the 76th annual Texas League All-Star Game.

"And I still haven't heard from him," said a smiling Houston about Espy, who is not only Tulsa's skipper but also served as the manager of the North squad in Thursday's night contest at ONEOK Field, home of the Tulsa Drillers.

"I found out [that I was starting] from a reporter on Wednesday. Then when I came to the stadium, my name was on the board in the clubhouse to [start and] pitch two innings," he said.

No matter how he learned of his assignment, Houston took the news in stride.

He hurled two near-perfect innings, needing just 18 pitches (seven in the first inning, 11 in the second) to record six outs before a sellout crowd of 8,047 witnessed the game in stifling 102-degree heat.

"I came out and tried not to overthrow it," said Houston, who has a 7-6 record and 3.38 ERA in 15 starts for the Drillers this season.

Through the first half of the season, his 96 innings pitched and 398 batters stand tops among current Texas League hurlers.

"I tried to be as efficient as I could," said Houston, now in his second season with the Drillers, the league's first-half champions in the Texas League North.

The only baserunner Houston allowed was a one-out walk to Corpus Christi's Jonathan Singleton in the second inning. Singleton, the Astros' top shortstop prospect, was wiped out on a double-play grounder by Midland's Jeremy Barfield to end Houston's stint on the mound.

Houston, a seventh-round selection by Colorado in the 2008 Draft, went 4-4 with a 4.27 ERA in 13 starts a year ago for Tulsa after moving up from Class A Advanced Modesto. After allowing 89 hits in 78 innings with Tulsa a year ago, the right-hander said an emphasis for him this season has been trying to have better quality starts.

"I have tried to pitch deeper into games this season," said Houston, who has induced opposing hitters to hit into 12 double plays. "I think I have taken a step in the right direction."

The fact that Houston, who also pitched in the Cal League's midseason classic a year ago while he was with Modesto, would be the North's starter didn't seem likely at all just 48 hours before the contest. Houston's teammate at Tulsa, Edwar Cabrera, had been designated to be the North's starter well in advance of the game.

Cabrera, however, was called up by the Drillers' parent club on Tuesday. Cabrera started Colorado's home game Wednesday night against the Washington Nationals.

To add to that, Houston said an injury to Northwest Arkansas pitcher Justin Marks enabled him to extend his outing to a second inning.

With everything seemingly falling into place, Houston certainly took advantage of the opportunity before him as he helped the North off to a good start in its eventual 3-1 victory against the South.

Duane DaPron is a contributor to