Mark Appel hasn't had the season he or the Astros expected when he was picked first overall in last year's Draft. On Saturday night, he returned to Class A Advanced Lancaster and surrendered 10 runs on 10 hits in 1 1/3 innings.
"This whole season has been a little strange, an appendectomy before Spring Training, having a short Spring Training, and then breaking camp and pitching every fourth day and just not being able to respond to that because physically I don't think I was there after the surgery," Appel said in an interview on SiriusXM's MLB Network Radio. "It could be so easy to just give up in certain situations, when, I mean -- 10 runs in an inning and a third, I don't think I've ever had a start that's that bad in my life, you know?
"You might consider I'm at the low of lows, but that's nothing to be ashamed of or nothing to get down on. It's just more desire, more motivation to keep working and to keep getting better. And really, it's humbling."
Astros general manager Jeff Luhnow told MLB.com's Brian McTaggart that Appel's arm strength was not a problem, adding he needs to improve his command of the strike zone. Luhnow also cited the JetHawks' hitter-friendly ballpark as contributing to the right-hander's struggles.
"Clearly, not the result we wanted in his first outing back, but we're optimistic that he's going to put this behind him and go there and execute. There's things he needs to learn from this outing and he will," Luhnow said. "And I'm not making excuses for him, but it's an environment where there's a pretty brisk [wind] blowing and you've got to learn how to keep the ball down. That was his big challenge last night."
After the appendectomy, the 22-year-old spent time in extended spring training to get adjusted to a professional routine before returning to the hitter-friendly California League. In five starts, the Astros' top pitching prospect is 0-1 with an 11.93 ERA, making it past the third inning just once.
"Having the confidence of knowing that you're the first overall pick in last year's Draft, you should be the top of the top right now, and I mean, it's humbling. This game is very humbling," the Stanford product said. "But it's a good thing because it'll give me that drive, that desire, that motivation to continue to working, to continue to be faithful, both to God and to my teammates, my coaches, myself, the things that I need to do."
In his first professional season, Appel combined for a 3-1 record and 3.79 ERA in 10 starts between short-season Tri-City and Class A Quad Cities. He struck out 33 batters while walking nine over 38 innings.
"I'll come back and I'll respond. Don't know exactly when that will be, I hope it'll be next game and I'm going to work and prepare like I have every other game to be able to be my best, but I think the Draft is definitely a starting point. And when you lose sight of that, you can, it could really get you," Appel told MLB Network Radio. "I think I lost sight of that a little bit and I think I felt entitled to certain things, and you know I'm actually really gracious and really appreciative of this kind of desert time that I'm going through right now because I know it'll make me that much better in the end."
Kelsie Heneghan is a contributor to MiLB.com. Follow her on Twitter @Kelsie_Heneghan.