Gillheeney fills big hole for Rainiers

M's prospect tosses 6 2/3 scoreless innings in Triple-A debut

James Gillheeney has held opponents to a .202 average in five starts. (John Shadrick)

By Sam Dykstra / Special to | April 30, 2013 8:54 PM ET

James Gillheeney was told Sunday that he'd be heading out to Triple-A Tacoma for the first time, but it wouldn't be under the best of circumstances.

The Mariners learned they had lost Danny Hultzen -- their No. 2 prospect -- for at least a month due to a rotator cuff strain and tendinitis in his left shoulder. Gillheeney was the one who would replace him in the Rainiers rotation.

No pressure or anything.

"I really don't like thinking about pressure like that," Gillheeney said. "I don't really try to feel much at all, to be honest. They gave me this opportunity and now I have to make the most of it."

Well, he's done a pretty good job so far.

Gillheeney (1-0) struck out nine and allowed four hits and a walk over 6 2/3 innings in his Triple-A debut Tuesday night, pitching Tacoma to a 4-0 blanking of visiting Tucson.

"Tonight was really exciting," said the 25-year-old left-hander. "I got the news I would be here on Sunday and I was really excited about it. Now it feels good to get the first one out of the way. I'm just glad we were able to get the win."

Gillheeney, who utilized a cutter-changeup-curveball mix to keep Tucson off-balance, did not allow more than one Padre to reach base in an inning. Of the five who did, only Rocky Gale reached scoring position after a third-inning double. He exited after a pair of strikeouts in the seventh ran his pitch count up to 90, including 61 strikes.

The nine strikeouts were an easy season-high -- he combined for eight in four starts at Double-A Jackson -- and his highest single-game total since Aug. 31, 2012 for the Generals.

"Strikeouts are always nice," he said. "But that's never really in my game plan. I'm more focused on pitching to early contact and trying to keep a minimal pitch count. I just want to keep the game moving and today, I was able to throw a pretty good amount of strikes, which was always helpful."

Even if the punchout numbers haven't quite been there this season, Gillheeney was no simple throw-in to the Tacoma roster after Hultzen went down. The former North Carolina product was 2-0 in four starts for Jackson with a 1.12 WHIP and a 1.21 ERA that ranked second in the Southern League.

That's a solid start for a hurler who put up combined ERAs of 5.09 and 5.39 between Jackson and Class A Advanced High Desert in 2012 and 2011, respectively.

Now the Rhode Island native will have to try his best to continue that success at his highest level yet, all while replacing one of the game's top pitching prospects.

"They told me I would be pitching in Danny Hultzen's spot," Gillheeney said, "but they also said just to go out there and pitch my game like I have been lately. That's all I'm here to do and that's all I'm focused on."

Danny Farquhar struck out five over 2 1/3 innings to earn his third save of the season, while Mariners No. 4 prospect Nick Franklin went 3-for-3 with a walk to raise his batting average to .410.

Sam Dykstra is a contributor to This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.

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