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Appel feels 'strong' in Double-A debut

Astros right-hander tosses five scoreless innings in first Hooks start
July 31, 2014

His pit stop in Houston might've caused headaches for Houston's public relations team, but the bullpen session Mark Appel threw at Minute Maid Park might just have done the right-hander some good.

The first pick in the 2013 Draft said he "felt strong" in his Double-A debut Wednesday, posting five scoreless innings for Corpus Christi as the Hooks were no-hit -- in delayed fashion -- by the San Antonio Missions in a 6-0 loss.

The Houston native said it felt good to be back pitching in his home state.

"It was a fun night," Appel said. "It was a lot of fun to be in Corpus Christi. It was just a night that I'm definitely going to remember."

The Astros' No. 2 prospect was promoted last week after a rocky start to the season with Class A Advanced Lancaster, where he had a 9.74 ERA in 12 California League starts.

En route to Corpus Christi, Appel stopped in Houston to throw a bullpen session with Astros pitching coach Brent Strom -- a move that reportedly drew ire from some Astros, although Chad Qualls and Jason Castro told they weren't aware of any players complaining about the session.

Strom worked with the 23-year-old on some mechanical tweaks to improve his fastball, and the right-hander was pleased with the results. The Stanford product hit 97 mph in the first inning Wednesday, according to

Appel said the early velocity wasn't out of line for him this season, but the movement and location were steps in the right direction.

"When I was feeling good, I threw pretty good [velocity-wise] in most of my starts," he said. "The biggest difference is I'm actually getting some angle and life on it, which I think is really helping me out. I think, overall, it was a good game."

After starting with two nearly perfect innings, Appel said he began to fatigue under the Texas heat but tried to maintain his velocity. The hurler said he started overthrowing a little in the third and fourth innings, causing his command to get shaky.

"Usually, in the first inning, I come out of the gates firing, then I back off a little bit, get into a groove, into a rhythm, then go back to that peak velocity when I need to," he said. "[On Wednesday, I] lost a little energy. The heat here in Texas, it's a little different than out in California. Those are the things I'm learning, especially as I'm playing in a new park and in a new state. That's something I'll hopefully work on and fix."

The Houston native loaded the bases in the third with walks to Cody Overbeck and Yeison Asencio separated by Casey McElroy's single. With two outs, San Antonio's cleanup hitter Alex Dickerson stepped in.

"We consider him their best hitter," Appel said. "He obviously has a lot of talent and consistently puts his best swings on pitches, is patient at the plate."

Appel attacked Dickerson with fastballs, working ahead 0-2 on two foul balls. After missing in with another fastball, Appel threw a slider, which Dickerson lofted into center field for the third out.

Appel said the slider was especially effective, particularly because he was able to establish his fastball early.

"I think it played well with the fastball," he said. "Especially when I was getting the fastball down in the zone and had my good command with it, it was a good pitch, I think.

"They weren't taking as good of swings as I've seen in the Cal League on my fastball. That's due to some of the adjustments I made in the bullpen. When they aren't squaring up the fastball as well as they'd like, the slider really played well. I was able to get some punchouts there and use it for called strikes early in the count."

The right-hander said it wasn't hard for him to ignore the media reports surrounding his bullpen in Houston.

"Honestly, I don't read the media or watch whatever," he said. "I don't go on Twitter too often. I just try to focus on the things I can control, focus on the things I can do to be successful. As exciting as a Double-A debut is, it's just, in my eyes, another step on my way to my ultimate goal to play in the big leagues for Houston."

Jake Seiner is a contributor to Follow him on Twitter at @Jake_Seiner.