Striking batters out and minimizing hits and runs hasn't been an issue for Danny Hultzen this season. It's the walks that have nagged at him.
So it was a welcome sign for Seattle's top prospect on Thursday when he fired off seven innings and issued just one free pass.
Hultzen limited Mobile to one run on three hits, while striking out eight to pitch Double A Jackson to a 4-2 win. It was the second time this year Hultzen issued just one walk, this time in a considerably longer outing. The effort also came with particularly good timing after the left-hander had given up 11 walks in his previous two starts combined.
It was something that, following his previous start, he said he wanted to, "get better at" and was pleased he made progress against the BayBears.
"I only walked one guy this time, that's one thing I've really been trying to focus on and did a better job of that tonight," said the 22-year-old. "I was getting in the heads of hitters, putting them away when I was ahead. That's a big part of it, when you fall behind that's when you make bad pitches down the middle or end up walking them."
In terms of run prevention, Thursday night was otherwise a customary Hultzen affair. Since surrendering five runs in his first start of the season, MLB.com's No. 14 overall prospect hasn't allowed more than two earned runs in any of the next seven starts. His ERA now sits at 1.81, second in the Southern League behind only the recently promoted Trevor Bauer.
His eight strikeouts were the second-most of the season, and his 8-to-1 strikeout-to-walk ratio in the outing was his best of the year by a healthy margin.
The second overall selection in last year's Draft attributed much of the smoothness of his start to the work he's put in with Jackson's pitching coach, Lance Painter, a 10-year Major League veteran with four teams from 1993-2003.
"I had been doing a lot of work with our pitching coach after this string of starts where I was walking everybody," said Hultzen. "We sat down and tried to figure out what was going on, and it was a tremendous help working with a guy that knowledgeable about the game. Watching video, making little adjustments throughout the game that he knows of, a lot of credit to him for that."
One of the keys Hultzen (4-3) pinpointed in Thursday's outing -- which he felt was the best he'd pitched so far this year and which will be crucial to continuing to keep the walks down -- was his comfort level on the mound and working at a slower pace.
"The first few outings I was trying to rush, trying to throw the ball too hard," he said. "One of the big things that [Painter] realized is I was really, really quick, and I just needed to relax a little bit and be smooth.
"It helped a lot, I really felt good out there."
Denny Almonte, Jesus Sucre and Steven Proscia each provided a pair of hits to back Hultzen offensively.
No. 8 Mariners prospect Carter Capps secured his fourth save with 1 1/3 perfect innings, striking out two.