Determination leads Pries to first Cactus League start

Named Mariners Minor League Starter of Year in '14, righty brings 'tactical and strategic' approach

Determination leads Pries to first Cactus League start

PEORIA, Ariz. -- He's not the most-imposing pitcher in Mariners camp, generously listed at 6-feet and 190 pounds. And as a 30th-round Draft pick out of Stanford in 2011, the odds were stacked against Jordan Pries from the start.

But give Pries a baseball and a mound, and he'll find a way to compete. Which is exactly what the young right-hander plans to do Saturday, when he steps on the hill at Camelback Ranch in Glendale, Ariz., for his first Cactus League start in a Mariners split-squad game against the White Sox at 12:05 p.m. PT.

"It's definitely cool," said Pries, who was Seattle's Minor League Starting Pitcher of the Year last season after a breakthrough season with Triple-A Tacoma. "The first time stepping on the field with some of these guys you've grown up watching is always going to be a little bit anxious. But then you throw that first pitch and it's the same old thing.

"That's the approach I have to have, because you don't want to go out there being a little bit overwhelmed. Having that confidence and knowing I belong here and everybody in that locker room belongs here is something that has driven me, and it'll keep me going."

The 25-year-old from Alameda, Calif., hasn't seemed overwhelmed by anything in his first Major League camp. Pries hangs out with the veteran pitchers, doing crossword puzzles in the clubhouse most mornings. In bullpen sessions, he's taken special interest in watching Hisashi Iwakuma, believing the Japanese standout's pitch command is similar to what he has to employ himself in order to compete at this level.

"I'm not going to go out there and blow guys away," said Pries. "I have to be more tactical and strategic with when I throw certain pitches and really try to get hitters to get themselves out early in counts. That's kind of my approach on the mound, to go on the attack, make the hitters feel on the defensive by just commanding everything and keeping them off balance."

That approach worked well last year in a breakthrough season when Pries made his Double-A debut with Jackson and was quickly promoted to Tacoma after just two starts, combining for a 10-8 record and a 3.86 ERA in 27 outings.

"I've been impressed," said manager Lloyd McClendon. "He's a strike thrower, he shows a lot of poise. I'm excited about him being at the Triple-A level. It certainly gives us more depth with our starting pitching, in case we do have injuries. That's a nice feeling. I can see why people in our organization like him a lot. He's pretty good."

Pries, who played for Stanford from 2009-11, vows to just keep pushing forward. He didn't come up as one of the big-name prospects and acknowledges that he didn't expect to be in a big league clubhouse "knocking on the door" at this point a year ago. But while Pries understands the magnitude of making his first start against Major Leaguers on Saturday, he's not going to spend too much time thinking about a big picture that is still being painted.

"I think one day I'll be able to look back and be able to appreciate the ride it's been," Pries said. "But now being in the middle of it, I'm just going. I'm just continuing to get a little bit better each day, learning something each day and enjoying it the whole time. Because it's unbelievable. Ever since I've been little, I've wanted to do this. But that will be at a later date to kind of appreciate all that, because I'm thick into this right now."

Greg Johns is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @GregJohnsMLB as well as his Mariners Musings blog. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.