Littell tosses six one-hit innings for Tampa

Yankees No. 20 prospect strikes out six, lowers ERA to 1.76

Zack Littell was acquired from the Mariners last November in a trade for left-hander James Pazos. (Mark LoMoglio/Tampa Yankees)

By Gerard Gilberto / MiLB.com | June 9, 2017 11:52 PM

The only mark in the hit column against Zack Littell on Friday night was an infield single off the bat of Sean Miller that deflected off the left foot of the Tampa hurler. When he looked down at his foot after the play, the right-hander knew it was no cheap shot.

"It sure felt like he hit it well," the Yankees' No. 20 prospect said with a laugh. "It got me right on the inside of the ball of my foot and he got me pretty squarely. The ball bounced straight up and it was just one of those things."


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Littell also walked a batter and plunked another but faced just one over the minimum over six scoreless innings as Class A Advanced Tampa held on for a 2-1 victory over the Miracle at Hammond Stadium. The 21-year-old threw 62 of 92 pitches for strikes and fanned six in winning his seventh straight start.

"It was one of those days where everything kind of felt good out of my hand and I was just able to pound the zone," Littell said. "I was trying to be as efficient as I could. I know I did throw a lot of pitches over six innings, but I really wasn't necessarily trying to strike guys out. I was just trying to get to the next guy."

The 21-year-old had gone seven innings in his previous four starts, allowing three runs on 25 hits with 28 strikeouts over that span. The Florida State League leader with eight wins, he lowered his ERA to 1.76, which ranks third on the circuit.

Littell worked a 1-2-3 first before hitting Trey Vavra with a 1-2 pitch to open the second. Of the 19 batters he faced, 15 got to a two-strike count, including each of the three who reached base against him.

"I was able to expand the zone -- they were an aggressive team," he said. "Very rarely do you have all four of your pitches and tonight was no different."

Vavra was erased when Kevin Garcia bounced into a double play, and Littell (8-1) retired 14 batters in a row. The 6-foot-3, 190-pounder struck out the side in the third and punched out Max Murphy leading off the fourth.

"I had my fastball and slider pretty good and my changeup and curveball we're kind of just used to show that I had it," Littell said. "So my slider was definitely my out pitch."

The North Carolina native brought a no-hitter into the fifth and got two outs before Miller's infield single.

"I battled with the guy a little bit. He did that in the first at-bat, too, saw a lot of pitches, had a good at-bat, fouled some balls off, and I left a slider in the middle of the zone and he hit it back at me," Littell said. "He put a pretty good swing on it. I think he was kind of sitting on slider because I tried to get him on it earlier and then I left one over the middle and he put a good swing on it."

Littell got through the fifth on a groundout by Nelson Molina and got ahead of Daniel Kihle, 0-2, to lead off the sixth before throwing four consecutive pitches out of the zone to issue his only walk. Tanner English bounced into a forceout and was picked off before Littell got Murphy to roll over a pitch to short to complete his outing.

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An 2013 11th-round pick by the Mariners, Littell is in his first season with the Yankees organization after being part of the deal that sent left hander James Pazos to Seattle last November. In four seasons with the Mariners, he compiled a 4.13 ERA over 381 1/3 innings. 

"Getting traded is one of those things that you don't really think will really happen to you. You know it happens, but you never actually think you're the one to get traded," Littell said. "It's like getting drafted again. But ever since I got here, everybody's been awesome."

Littell mentioned the work he's done with Yankees pitching coordinator Danny Borrell that's helped him be more deceptive in his delivery. He's also learned to hold his hands higher and break later in the windup to make it harder for the hitter to spot the ball before he lets it go. 

"He's helped me maximize the efficiency of my body through mechanics," Littell said. "Any and everything that hitters can see helps out, so I'm just really trying to minimize the opportunity for them to get a jump on me."

Francisco Diaz drove in both runs for Tampa with singles in the second and sixth. Yankees No. 4 prospect Jorge Mateo walked and stole his 22nd base, which ranks second in the FSL.

Gerard Gilberto is a contributor to MiLB.com. Follow and interact with him on Twitter, @GerardGilberto4. This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.

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