M's Hultzen less predictable, better

No. 16 prospect mixes up pitches in second start, fans nine

By Jonathan Raymond / Special to MLB.com | April 13, 2012 7:43 PM ET

In baseball, the difference between a good start and a bad one can come down to the tiniest of adjustments.

In his Minor League debut last week, Danny Hultzen said he threw too many fastballs, making him a bit too predictable. He ended up allowing five runs over four innings.

By Friday, that problem had been corrected.

MLB.com's No. 16 prospect struck out nine and allowed a pair of unearned runs on one hit over 5 2/3 innings in the Jackson Generals' tough-luck 4-1 loss to the Tennessee Smokies.

"It's baseball. I've been on the other side of it plenty of times," said the No. 2 overall pick in the 2011 Draft. "We happened to be on the losing side tonight. It just motivates you to make big pitches in big situations the next time."

Hultzen, the Mariners' top pitching prospect, was able to mix up his pitches just a little better than he did in his first start. That, he said, made the difference between his more troublesome first start and his smoother second outing.

"I think I just made better pitches tonight. In my first start, I was kind of predictable with a bunch of fastballs. Today, I was able to throw all my pitches for strikes," he said. "I think the big thing was getting ahead of hitters and keeping them off-balance. That's my motto, I guess. I just try to do that every time I get out there. In my first start, I didn't do that very well."

Hultzen was bested by Tennessee's Dae-Eun Rhee, who allowed one run on six hits over 6 1/3 innings, striking out four and walking one.

The 22-year-old left-hander draws more attention on a start-to-start basis, thanks to his draft status. The Generals attract more attention since they boast a handful of baseball's top prospects in Hultzen, fellow starters Taijuan Walker and James Paxton and shortstop Nick Franklin.

"It's an honor to be talked about like that, that people care that much, but my job is to pitch," Hultzen said. "That's all I'm going to do. The other stuff will take care of itself, and I'll control what I can control."

Hultzen lowered his ERA to 4.66 and he's already struck out 16 batters over only 9 2/3 innings. As a polished college product, the Mariners gave him a look at Major League camp, where he pitched two scoreless innings in his lone appearance.

With his pedigree, it might not be unreasonable to expect to be fast-tracked through the Seattle system, even if it is his first year of professional baseball. That's something else the Maryland native doesn't spend much time thinking about.

"That's everyone's goal, to make it to the Majors, and hopefully that'll be where I am one day," he said. "But right now I'm just focused on getting better every single day and improving as a baseball player."

Jonathan Raymond is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.

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