Zack Littell was elevated to Double-A Trenton on Wednesday after nearly three months dominating the Florida State League. The promotion turned out to be a one-day stay, but in that time, the Yankees' No. 20 prospect turned in a brilliant Eastern League debut.
Littell fell one short of a career high with 10 strikeouts, surrendering an unearned run on two hits over seven innings as the Thunder defeated the Hartford Yard Goats, 5-1, on Thursday at Dunkin Donuts Park. The right-hander walked four and threw 72 of 108 pitches for strikes.
Gameday box score
The Yankees recalled righty Ronald Herrera from the Thunder to join the big league club in Los Angeles on Wednesday night. That enabled Trenton to bring up Littell.
The 21-year-old, acquired by New York in a trade that sent left-hander James Pazos to Seattle in November, said he was told the promotion was temporary, but he did not know how long it would last. He learned after the game that he was headed back to Class A Advanced Tampa.
"This organization is awesome. There's so much talent here at every level," Littell said. "I know how it works. They were straightforward with me. So I came up here and just tried to help Trenton win a game. That's all I could really do, anywhere I go."
The promotion came less than a week after one of his better outings for Tampa, a six-inning, one-hit effort for his Florida State League-leading eighth win.
"I feel good right now. I've always tried to maintain a level of confidence in my abilities," Littell said. "I do feel good on the mound right now and I do feel like I can go out and compete every night."
The Mebane, North Carolina native posted 11 strikeouts during a California League playoff game for the Class A Advanced Bakersfield Blaze last Sept. 8.
Littell said it was an "awesome" experience to work with Wilkin Castillo, and credited the 33-year-old veteran catcher with thinking up some creative pitch sequencing and guiding him through an unfamiliar lineup.
"I might have shook him off three times all night," the 6-foot-3, 190-pound hurler said. "When he called a pitch, I threw it and it worked out. He kind of explained to me why he felt like that and his thought process on it. And there was definitely some stuff I could use in the future."
Video: Littell records 10th strikeout for Trenton
Littell got Drew Weeks to ground into a double play after a one-out walk in the first inning and survived Dom Nunez's two-out double with his first whiff in the second. That started a streak of eight straight batters retired, five by strikeout.
"We just mixed well, I think I had strikeouts on almost every pitch," the 2013 11th-round pick said. "I think just a combination of mixing all my pitches and attacking every hitter differently in each at-bat really was the difference."
The Trenton defense got Littell into some trouble in the sixth when two infield errors put runners at second and third with one out. Littell got Weeks to bounce into a fielder's choice before fanning Dillon Thomas.
Littell sandwiched another free pass to Nunez around a pair of strikeouts to start the seventh before throwing away a comebacker from Juan Ciriaco to put runners on the corners. Nunez scored on a wild pitch and a fielding error by shortstop Thairo Estrada, the Yankees' No. 29 prospect, again put runners on the corners. But Littell struck out Omar Carrizales on three pitches to complete his brief taste of Double-A competition.
"I just had to keep pitching. It was more just getting me to slow the game down and getting back to doing what I was doing," Littell said. "I tried to just attack the zone. I didn't have my best fastball command really. But I was able to make pitches when I needed to make pitches."
Caleb Frare and Colten Brewer pitched a perfect inning apiece for the Thunder.
Ninth-ranked Yankees prospect Miguel Andujar delivered a three-run double and Estrada added an RBI single.