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Mariners’ Hultzen feels no pressure

Mariners’ Hultzen feels no pressure

Posted: Thursday, July 12, 2012 12:00 pm

Special to The Press
JACKSON — Danny Hultzen has a different way of looking at the word pressure: He removes the “press.”
“I’ve always thought pressure is a privilege. All that pressure that is on you, you don’t need to feel it. It’s kind of an honor to have it if people expect that much out of you. You try not to let it get in your head,” said Hultzen.
Expectations are high for Hultzen, who was Seattle’s first round pick in the 2011 Major League Baseball Draft and the second overall. ranks him as baseball’s No. 11 prospect.
Drafted out of the University of Virginia, Hultzen was the highest draft pick in school history and its first to win Atlantic Coast Conference Pitcher of the Year, which he did in 2010 and 2011. He was a first-team All-American and first team All-ACC for three seasons and holds the school record in career wins with 32 and in career strikeouts with 395.
Before being promoted on June 20 to the Tacoma Rainiers, Seattle’s AAA affiliate in the Pacific Coast League, Hultzen tore through the AA Southern League with the Jackson Generals.
A lefthander, Hultzen led the league with a 1.19 ERA and in allowing opponents the lowest batting average (.151). He tied for first with eight wins (8-3) and his 79 strikeouts in 75.1 innings ranked second.
Named a Southern League All-Star, he was the North Division team’s starting pitcher in the all-star game. He led Jackson to the North Division first half championship and the league’s best record (42-28).
“Every pitch, he can throw for a strike,” said Jackson outfielder Joe Dunnigan. “You see the swings on him. It’s like guys are almost trying to fight off pitches moreso than drive the ball.”
Hultzen won his first game as a Rainier on July 3 and is 1-1 with 15 strikeouts in 12 innings.
Hultzen’s signing bonus was a reported $6.35 million with a contract worth $8.5 million over five years.
“It was pretty crazy to think about but I don’t want it to change who I am so I have been doing my best not to let that happen,” said Hultzen, 22. “I try to be a humble guy.”
He considers himself to be “pretty quiet” and “pretty low key.” Add “pretty laid back.”
“I think sometimes people think I am kind of a jerk. Sometimes I look pretty mean out there, but I am a pretty laid-back guy,” he said.
Teammates say that he is funny and call him a “good guy.” He likes to hang out with friends and family and “take it easy.”
“I love baseball but it is necessary sometimes to get away from the game,” he said.
If the Mariners would allow it, he would like to go skydiving.
However, pro baseball is more than a dream come true than free-falling or a fistful of dollars.
“It is a dream as a kid to play professional baseball and play every day. Hopefully one day, I will be at the major league level but right now I am enjoying this time here,” he said during an interview when he was with the Generals.
Along with patience, which he said is key, Hultzen is developing consistency. He is trying to find consistency in his favorite pitch, a fast ball, and on good days he places it where he wants. During spring training, it reached 97 mph and usually is in the low-90s range.
“I think it is a battle every baseball player faces. There was a long period of time where I struggled and I had to adjust to it. Going through that process, I knew what to expect coming here. It is a battle for consistency to not go through those peaks and valleys. You just need to trust yourself. There are a lot of times when people try to do too much or to be someone they are not. You trust who you are and go out there and do your thing.”
What helps is focusing on one pitch at a time and avoiding looking too far ahead. “From my experience, that never works out,” said Hultzen, who played in the 14th annual Sirius XM All-Star Futures Game in Kansas City.
As a sophomore, Hultzen led the ACC in strikeouts per nine innings (10.38) and strikeouts (123). His junior season, he again led the ACC in strikeouts with 165, which was second nationally. In 2011, he ranked fifth nationally with a 1.37 ERA. He also batted .320 and hit an inside-the-park grand slam.
Everywhere Hultzen’s been, he has been successful.
Arizona wanted him to sign after his senior year in high school, drafting him in the 10th round of the 2008 draft.
Hultzen was an All-American at St. Albans High School in Washington, D.C. He averaged two strikeouts per inning his senior year (140 in 73 innings) and went 13-0 with a 0.74 ERA.
While he calls his awards “awesome” and “tremendous honors,” Hultzen doesn’t focus on them or statistics.
What meant more to him than individual awards was leading the Cavaliers to the College World Series in 2009 and 2011.
They provided his most memorable baseball moments. “I’ll never forget those moments playing with those guys,” he said.
A native of Bethesda, Md., Hultzen has been playing baseball since he was a child.
“I was lucky to be born being able to throw a baseball,” he said.
One of his first memories is the glove he received as a gift from his father, Chris Hultzen. They would play catch at his older brother Joseph’s baseball games.
While he grew up admiring baseball players, his role model is his father.
“He has taught me how to work hard, not only in baseball, and to be a good man. That is something I always try to keep doing,” he said.
Hultzen combines baseball with brains. A history major, he was named a 2011 Capital One First Team Academic All-American. He had a 3.37 GPA.
“You have to have a combination of talent and smarts. I’ve seen guys who are super-talented but don’t know what they are doing out there. There are guys that know what they are doing but are not as talented. I think it is a combination of having that talent but more importantly knowing what you are able to do,” he said.
Said Dunnigan, “I know if I was a lefty I wouldn’t want to face him. He has got great stuff, great command of every pitch.”
Jackson teammate Taijuan Walker saw the energy Hultzen brought to the Generals.
“He’s a great pitcher. When he is on the mound, you have that confidence that you are going to have the chance every single time to win that game,” said Walker. “That is huge.”

Published in The Press 7.12.12

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