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Astros Appel calms down after rocky first inning

By Paul Casella / | March 16, 2015

VIERA, Fla. -- Mark Appel was admittedly a bit overhyped for his first Grapefruit League start on Monday, but the Astros' top pitching prospect managed to eventually calm his nerves over an up-and-down two innings.

Appel, the top overall pick in the 2013 First-Year Player Draft, allowed one run on two hits and a pair of walks, while also notching one strikeout. Most of that damage came in the first inning, when the right-hander not only served up a leadoff triple to Nationals outfielder Michael Taylor, who scored one batter later on a sacrifice fly, but also walked two hitters before later escaping without any further damage.

"I think I was just excited to go out there and pitch," said Appel, who had been sidelined since a March 5 appearance against the Phillies due to a strained right forearm. "I was a little sporadic there in the first inning. The command wasn't right where I wanted it to be, but I settled down in the second."

The two walks were particularly unusual for Appel, the club's No. 2 prospect, as he has averaged just 2.4 walks per nine innings over his 29 career appearances in the Minors.

"I would just say my command with my fastball in the first was what really hurt me," Appel said. "I couldn't really go to the offspeed pitches when I needed to. I got behind in a lot of counts. I had two walks -- I can't remember the last time I had two walks in an inning."

Despite the early command problems, however, Appel seemed to settle in after those two first-inning walks to Bryce Harper and Ian Stewart, respectively. Following the free pass to Stewart, Appel managed to strike out Tyler Moore for the third out, stranding the two baserunners.

It appeared as if Appel may have been on his way to finding himself in more trouble in the second after allowing a leadoff single to Mike Carp, but he responded by quickly forcing three straight groundouts to escape the frame unscathed.

"I get done with the second, and now I feel like I want to go two, three, four more [innings]," Appel said. "I just felt like I was kind of getting into a rhythm there. It's a good place to build off of for next outing."

Though Astros manager A.J. Hinch wasn't about to let the 23-year-old pitch anywhere near that deep in his return to the mound, the skipper was encouraged by Appel's performance. Appel reported no setbacks following his outing, and as long as that doesn't change, Hinch said the righty should be on a normal pitching schedule moving forward, though he declined to say exactly when or where Appel will pitch next.

"I thought the first inning he was battling himself a little bit, rushing his delivery," Hinch said. "Then he made a great adjustment in inning two and came back and featured some pretty good stuff and got through his outing very well. So I was happy with the end product. I thought he threw the ball well and with no limitations."

"Baseball statistics are like a girl in a bikini. They show a lot, but not everything." ...~Toby Harrah, 1983
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