Rays' Hu dazzles as Stone Crabs win opener

Righty twirls career-high eight shutout innings in FSL Finals Game 1

Chih-Wei Hu, traded to the Rays in late July, struck out 99 batters in 109 innings this season. (Aldrin Capulong/Tortugas)

By Tyler Murray / Special to MiLB.com | September 10, 2015 11:48 PM

DAYTONA BEACH, Florida -- Finding a comfort zone on a new team can take time. For Tampa Bay right-hander Chih-Wei Hu, all it took was a shot in the playoffs.

In his sixth outing since being traded from the Twins, Hu led the Class A Advanced Charlotte Stone Crabs to a 1-0 win over the Daytona Tortugas for a 1-0 series lead in the Florida State League Championship Series on Thursday. Hu tossed a career-high eight shutout innings, scattering five singles and one walk while striking out nine. Lefty Jordan Harrison handled a flawless ninth to seal the win.

"I've been waiting over a month to get my first win with this team," said Hu, the Rays' No. 16 prospect. "I just told myself to relax, don't get nervous. I felt excited and comfortable, and my teammates supported me. We came through again."

The 21-year-old from Taichung, Taiwan had excelled in the first half with Minnesota's Fort Myers Miracle, posting a 5-3 record with a 2.44 ERA in his first 15 starts. Those numbers caught the eye of another American League team and at the trade deadline, Hu was dealt to the Rays along with right-hander Alexis Tapia for fellow righty Kevin Jepsen. Hu met up with his new team in Lakeland, where the Stone Crabs were on the road against the Flying Tigers.

"As well as he pitched against us before we got him in the trade, we were real happy to see him walk through the clubhouse," said Stone Crabs pitching coach Doc Watson. "He embraced these guys and we've embraced him. It's a really good fit."

It wasn't always smooth sailing for Hu. In his first month with Charlotte, he went 0-3 with a 7.36 ERA, allowing 15 earned runs in 18 1/3 innings, while opponents hit a hearty .315 against him. On Thursday, he finally found his footing.

"He commanded his fastball in," Watson said. "He threw a lot of four-seam fastballs in, he had a good feel for his slider, and he never pitched himself into trouble."

Hu stranded leadoff baserunners in five of his first seven innings, induced a pair of double plays and collected seven of his nine strikeouts with runners on base. Daytona's biggest threat came in the sixth inning, when Joe Hudson reached third base after a leadoff single and two groundouts. Hu fanned Sebastian Elizalde to end the frame.

Stone Crabs left fielder Granden Goetzman, who homered Wednesday, sparked a rally with a leadoff single and a stolen base in the second before scoring the game's lone run on an RBI double by right fielder Justin Williams, Tampa Bay's No. 22 prospect. Hu bested Florida State League All-Star Jackson Stephens, who surrendered just one run on five hits over seven innings for Daytona.

The Tortugas entered the series on a seven-game winning streak, highlighted by their prospect-laden pitching staff. Daytona has held opponents to just three runs in its last six games, and the Tortugas' three playoff starters (lefty Amir Garrett, righty Nick Travieso and Stephens) have combined to allow just two runs in 21 postseason innings.

It's been quite the turnaround for the FSL South-champion Stone Crabs. After securing a playoff berth with a league-best 45-25 first-half record, Charlotte hobbled to a 8-23 finish and faced the red-hot Palm Beach Cardinals in the semifinals. The Stone Crabs hit .441 as a team as part of a two-game sweep. Hu continued a trend of strong starting pitching, with righties Brent Honeywell and German Marquez picking up wins over Palm Beach.

Daytona will host Game 2 of the best-of-5 series on Sept. 11, with southpaw Seth Varner scheduled to face right-hander Buddy Borden. First pitch is scheduled for 7:05 p.m. ET. Charlotte will host the third game, as well as Games 4-5, if necessary.

Tyler Murray is a contributor to MiLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.

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