Mariners' young pitchers unveiled
It took just one batter for Mariners prospect Danny Hultzen to get a sense of how different it can be pitching to big-leaguers.
Seattle Times staff reporter
PEORIA, Ariz. — It took just one batter for Mariners prospect Danny Hultzen to get a sense of how different it can be pitching to big-leaguers.
Ten pitches later, Chone Figgins was standing on first base after a leadoff walk and Hultzen had already depleted a fair chunk of his pitch limit in an inning the Mariners didn't allow him to complete. The No. 2 overall pick recorded two outs before the Mariners put an end to the first inning of their intrasquad game Friday so Hultzen didn't have to overtax his arm.
It was just part of the learning process top Mariners pitching prospects Hultzen, 21, Taijuan Walker, 19, James Paxton, 23, and Erasmo Ramirez, 21, all went through with varying degrees of success in their first game situations in a major-league camp. Walker looked downright dominant in his outing while Paxton and Ramirez overcame early jams to survive their lone innings and take initial steps in what the team hopes will be a long, bright future.
"It didn't go the way I wanted it to," said Hultzen, who also gave up singles to Casper Wells and Justin Smoak, the latter of which scored Figgins. "But it was nice to get the first one out of the way like that."
Figgins drew two walks in his only two plate appearances just days after being named Seattle's new leadoff hitter. He was responsible for much of the day's offense while a solo home run by Brendan Ryan and a triple by Carlos Peguero were some of the few offensive highlights on a day most were out to see Seattle's brightest future pitching stars.
One by one, they were trotted out there, beginning with Hultzen.
"You never know what's going through their mind or what they're feeling out there for the first time," Mariners manager Eric Wedge said. "It's a personal experience, but I felt they all handled themselves pretty well."
Next on Hultzen's to-do list was dinner Friday night with Paxton and Walker. For all of the comparisons people have done of the trio of mound hopefuls, they've never spent time away from the ballpark together as a threesome.
"It will give us the chance to compare notes on this experience and how it went," said Paxton, who began his day with a "Canadian matchup" against outfielder Michael Saunders.
Paxton last faced Saunders in a high-school selects game in British Columbia when he was with North Delta and Saunders was playing for Victoria. This time, Paxton fell behind 3-0 in the count and wound up seeing Saunders reach on an error before an ensuing walk to Figgins put two on with none out.
But Paxton recovered with a fly out, a strikeout of Wells and a ground out.
Paxton was in camp with the team last spring for two weeks but didn't get in any games. He admitted to some nerves and excitement before warming up but said he felt better once he got to the mound.
Mariners minor-league pitching instructor Lance Painter, who coached Paxton in Class AA last season, said before the game he didn't think any of the young pitchers would be overtaken by nerves. That happened to a few youngsters in the first intrasquad game a year ago, particularly reliever Dan Cortes, who was firing balls all over the place.
"They aren't cocky, but I don't think they'll be nervous either," Painter said. "They have a tremendous sense of confidence in what their abilities are."
Painter described Paxton as "a deer caught in the headlights" when he attended camp last year but said his demeanor has been completely different this spring. Another young starter Painter coached in Class AA was Ramirez, the Nicaraguan who spent much of 2011 learning to "expand the strike zone" and not throw so many pitches over the plate when he gets ahead of hitters.
Ramirez said he's better at avoiding that now, though he admitted he was a little too excited in taking the mound for the intrasquad game.
"I kept doing everything a little too fast," he said. "My tempo was too quick on every pitch."
But after surrendering a leadoff double to Saunders, he settled down and got a pop-up and two strikeouts to retire the side.
The best in the parade of young arms may have been Walker, the Class A second-round pick from 2009 who struck out Munenori Kawasaki on a nasty curveball to begin his outing. Kawasaki then fanned Peguero as well and got Guillermo Quiroz to ground out meekly to the right side.
"It was my first time facing big-leaguers and all, so yeah, I was a little nervous and excited when I got here today," he said. "But then, when I walked out to the bullpen to warm up, it started going away and I just went out there and pitched."
• Jason Vargas retired all seven batters he faced in the game, striking out four. The first strikeout was on a pitch in the dirt that Ichiro swung at and missed, en route to an 0-for-2 effort at the plate while batting third in the order.
Geoff Baker: 206-464-8286 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
On Twitter @gbakermariners