Rockies' Howard puts up zeros in pro debut

Third-round pick allows two hits over three frames for Grand Junction

Sam Howard was 7-6 with a 2.35 ERA in 16 games, including 15 starts, for the Eagles this year. (John Kelley/Georgia Southern)

By Ashley Marshall / MiLB.com | June 26, 2014 2:19 AM

A late bloomer as a high-school pitcher, Sam Howard said a career as a professional baseball player never really crossed his mind until he was in his mid-teens.

But Wednesday, that initial thought became reality as the 21-year-old third-round Draft pick of the Colorado Rockies made his pro debut with three shutout frames.

Howard allowed two hits in the start for Rookie-level Grand Junction Rockies' 5-4 win over the Ogden Raptors in 13 innings, the longest game in Rockies history. The 6-foot-3 left-hander struck out three batters and did not allow a walk.

"Overall, it went pretty good," said Howard, who sat between 90-92 mph with his fastball and can run it to the mid-90s. "I got away with some pitches up in the zone that they swung at, but overall, it was pretty good. I was excited all day and ready to get out to the park.

"The experience was awesome and I enjoyed every minute of it. I had some success out there and I told myself that they have already drafted me so do what I did to get to that point."

The Georgia native worked around Julian Leon's two-out single to center field in the first inning, set down the side in order in the second and rolled an inning-ending double play ball to erase Cristian Gomez's base hit in the third.

"I was mainly sticking with the fastball ... until they proved they could hit it," said Howard, who pitched three years at Georgia Southern University. "A couple curveballs to some lefties and cutters and changeups to righties.

"I would say I'm very fluid. A lot of people growing up and in high school and college say I'm effortless -- low-key, slow mechanics until the last minute."

Howard, who pitches out of a three-quarter arm slot, was previously selected by the Cubs in the 48th round of the 2011 Draft out of Georgia's Cartersville High School, but he decided to go to college.

With the Eagles, Howard compiled a 7-6 record with a 2.35 ERA in 16 games, including 15 starts. He led the team with 94 strikeouts over 95 2/3 innings and helped the school get to the NCAA Regional Tournament in Tallahassee, Florida, where they eventually lost to Alabama.

The junior, who earned the win out of the bullpen in the Southern Conference Championship Game against Samford, also tossed a complete-game shutout against Florida State, ranked fifth in the nation, in his final collegiate start six days before the Rockies took him 82nd overall earlier this month.

"I was a really late bloomer in high school," said Howard, the 89th Eagle to be taken in the Draft in the past 60 years. "I was behind so many of my friends in my sophomore and junior year. I started picking up my senior year. Up to that point, I never really thought I had a shot of getting drafted.

"The main thing about me is that I've never been on top of the charts. I was never a first-rounder. But I'm a competitor. I'm never going to be satisfied with where I'm at and I'm never going to stop working on improving until I get to the big leagues."

Howard said the Rockies drafted him as a starting pitcher and told him he will be on a three-inning, 45-pitch limit for the first four or five weeks of the season. After that, they expect to build him up to five innings over the latter part of the summer.

Rockies reliever Matt Pierpoint (1-0) worked around two hits over two innings of work to pick up the victory.

Grand Junction left fielder Wilson Soriano was 3-for-7 with the game-winning RBI, designated hitter Hamlet Marte doubled as part of a three-hit performance and shortstop Max George homered, doubled, walked and plated three runs in the win.

Ogden's Lenix Osuna (0-1) allowed the decisive run on one hit and two walks over two-thirds of an inning in the 13th.

Ashley Marshall is a contributor to MiLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @AshMarshallMLB. This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.

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