By Ryan Divish The News Tribune
Danny Hultzen doesn’t mind the recent cold and gray weather of the supposed summer in the Puget Sound.
After spending the last few weeks in the 110 degree heat of Peoria, Arizona, the coolness is a welcome change.
More importantly to Hultzen than the climate, a return to Tacoma means a return to pitching for the Rainiers.
After missing almost two months with a shoulder injury, the prized Mariners pitching prospect will start Thursday night at Cheney Stadium against the Las Vegas 51s.
“I’m glad to be back and competing for a team,” he said on Tuesday before the Rainiers game. “I’ve only been back for two days and I’m already having fun. It’s good to be back.”
It’s also good to be healthy.
The Mariners and Hultzen got a scare in April when he was scratched from a start after feeling tightness in his shoulder. He was diagnosed with a rotator cuff strain.
Hearing those words can make any pitcher shiver with fear.
“The only time I was scared was at the very beginning when I didn’t really know what was going to happen,” Hultzen said. “I was freaking out for a little bit because that is a scary word. I’m not going to lie to you, I was a little bit scared there. It was very calming to hear from the doctors that it wasn’t a big deal.”
Still, it was a big enough deal for the Mariners to be very careful with Hultzen’s recovery. They made him the second pick of the 2011 draft for a reason. And they weren’t going to let him rush back.
“I took two weeks off from throwing,” Hultzen said. “After those two weeks, I started playing catch from a really short distance, probably just 50 feet. Then the next day 60 feet and then a little bit longer and a little bit longer. And then I got up to 120 feet for about 10 minutes.”
After that, Hultzen was able to start throwing bullpen sessions later transitioning live batting practice followed by short stints in games, slowly building his arm strength and pitch count – all in the sweltering summer heat of Arizona.
“That’s what my life has been for the last few months,” he said.
Basically, Hultzen had to start from the beginning.
“It was like starting from the offseason,” he said. “When you come to spring training, you are already in pitching shape. But it’s kind of reminded me of that feeling of not having thrown for a couple months, even though it was a couple weeks. It was that kind of process.”
Even Hultzen was surprised by the length of the recovery period, considering the injury wasn’t supposed to be serious.
“I thought it was going to be a little shorter because I didn’t really realize I would have to start back from basically scratch,” he said. “I figured I would take a few days off and start throwing again and then start pitching again quicker. But I realized that’s not really how it works. It did take a little bit longer but it was for good reason to not jump back into it too quickly. There was no reason to. It was a little bit longer, but it’s all good.”
On Tuesday, he was playing long toss with James Paxton from over 120 feet. It was impressive to watch. The ball was zipping out of his hand.
“It feels strong,” he said. “It feels back to normal. I’m not worried about how it feels anymore. I’m just back to being a pitcher.”
Hultzen will be on a pitch count of about 75 pitches. They will build that number up slowly in hopes of getting him ready to join the Mariners rotation. Had he not gotten hurt, there was a chance he’d already be there.
“It was very frustrating,” he said. “I was throwing the ball well. I felt good. The team was winning. It was a good vibe until it kind of came crashing down that one day. It was kind of tough. But like I said before, I’m just glad to be back and hope we can get it going again.”