Danny Hultzen, Jamie Moyer — two pitchers with big-league dreams
What imbued Tuesday night's Class AAA game with poignancy and power was the undeniable fact that these were two pitchers heading in different directions.
Seattle Times baseball reporter
TACOMA — The contrast, of course, is what made Thursday night at Cheney Stadium so special, what brought the electricity, enticed the media throng, and filled the place to a capacity rarely seen without postgame fireworks.
"It's kind of an exciting day here," grinned Tacoma manager Daren Brown. "We don't have you guys here every day, for one thing."
I'm not just talking about the physical contrast in the two pitching styles, though the juxtaposition of Danny Hultzen and Jamie Moyer was a constant pleasure to soak in. Other than both being left-handed, they might as well as have been different species, Hultzen firing fastballs as rapidly as 96 mph, Moyer displaying the same strategy with which he has thrived for nearly three decades: slow, slower and slowest.
But what really imbued this night with poignancy and power was the undeniable fact that these were two pitchers heading in different directions.
For Hultzen, just 22, it's all there in front of him — a career the Mariners hope will be a central element of the renaissance they're selling, now nothing more than a concept. This was just his second Class AAA start, after romping through AA, and though his command was not stellar, he showed flashes of the stuff that caused the Mariners to select him with the second overall pitch in last year's draft.
Moyer has been to the very top — won a World Series, made an All-Star team, and was a community hero during 11 stellar seasons with the Mariners in which he won more games than anyone they've ever had.
But now, at age 49, he's desperately trying to hang on, having already made it back this year following Tommy John surgery to become the oldest pitcher to ever win a game in the majors. But the Rockies let him go in May, and the Orioles let him go last week, at his request, when they declined to call him up after three minor-league starts for Norfolk.
So now he's a Las Vegas 51, having signed with the Toronto organization for what is essentially a two-game AAA tryout to see if he warrants inclusion in the Blue Jays' injury-riddled rotation.
"I like this environment, because there's hungry guys here," Moyer said afterward. "In Norfolk, there were more veterans than here. But there's guys real green, guys on their way up, guys that have been up that are trying to get back. And it's baseball."
And that's what brought Moyer, fortuitously, to Tacoma on this fraught Thursday night, in front of a sellout crowd of 7,435, to face off against the latest Mariners phenom. Really, he wasn't that much different from anyone else in uniform, from Las Vegas' Chris Woodward, who turned 36 a day earlier ("Jamie has me by 14 years," he laughed. "I used to be the oldest guy on the team; now it's not even close") to 21-year-old infielder Nick Franklin, another touted Mariners prospect on the ascendancy.
They're all chasing the same major-league dream, just at different stages.
"We tell these guys all the time: If you have a uniform on, you still have a chance," Brown said. "Jamie wouldn't be out there if he didn't think he could still get people out."
Hultzen — who was born in November 1989, just after Moyer completed his fourth major-league season — lasted four innings. That's one more than his shaky Tacoma debut in Colorado Springs, in which he walked five, gave up five hits and allowed five runs.
"He got the jitters out in his first start, and I'm as excited as you guys are to see him tonight," Brown said.
This time his command was much better, but still not where it was in AA Jackson, where Hultzen racked up a 1.19 ERA; nor where it must be for the Mariners to bring him up. Hultzen walked four — three of them in the second inning after a single to force in the only run he allowed. He needed 90 pitches to get through four innings, even after a crisp 10-pitch first.
"After last outing, I really wanted to get out there," Hultzen said. "I was really excited to pitch tonight. It didn't go as well as you wanted to. I was a little bit better, and all you can ask for is improvement.
"I couldn't throw a strike, couldn't get ahead of hitters. But when I do that, I still feel I have a really good shot at getting the guy out. That's something I really, really need to work on, not only not walking people, but getting guys out when I fall behind."
But Hultzen allowed just three hits and struck out six, and toughened up when he got in jams, leaving six runners on base. Mariners folks will tell you it's not such a bad thing to see Hultzen struggle, because every pitcher does. It's how they respond that's the separator.
Moyer is the poster child for positive response to struggles. He persevered early in his career, when organization after organization cut him loose. He persevered when he blew out his elbow at an age when most pitchers would figure it was a sign from the baseball gods to hang it up. And now he's persevering one more time — one last time, realistically — to prove he can keep going.
It didn't look good early for Moyer in his 51s debut. He gave up a walk and three hits in the first — one of them a massive two-run homer by Luis Jimenez. He gave up another homer in the second to Adam Moore, as well as a triple to Franklin. It was hard not to wince and think that maybe, this time, Father Time would finally win. The end comes for everybody, even, theoretically, for Moyer.
But then he morphed into vintage Jamie, retiring eight in a row, confounding the Rainiers with his slop, and shutting them down out until exiting after five.
By that time, the 51s had blown open the game and led 9-3, setting up Moyer for the victory. He gave up seven hits and a walk, but just those three early runs, with six strikeouts.
Hultzen took it all in, even as he fretted over his own issues.
"That was awesome to watch," he said. "It was really cool to not only play against him, but just watch him. Guy you look up to, you're on the same mound. It was really cool."
No telling if Moyer's showing will be enough to persuade the Blue Jays to call him up. But you know where Moyer will be in five days. Same place as Hultzen: Back on a PCL mound, trying to move closer to the major leagues.
If you have a uniform on, you still have a chance.
And it's baseball.
|Tale of the tape|
|Thursday's Class AAA game in Tacoma featured two pitchers at the opposite ends of their careers.|
|Danny Hultzen||Category||Jamie Moyer|
|No. 2, 2011||Drafted||No. 135, 1984|
|Not in majors yet||Career stats||269-209, 4.25 ERA|
|Mariners||Current org.||Blue Jays|
|4 IP, 3 H, 1 ER, 6 K||Thursday||5 IP, 7 H, 3 ER, 6 K|
About Larry Stone
Larry Stone gives an inside look at the national baseball scene every Sunday. Look for his weekly power rankings during the season.