Drew Hutchison came to the Arizona Fall League just to get some more work in, to build up his surgically repaired right arm back to where it was before Tommy John surgery.
Two outings in, he's off to a pretty good start.
Hutchison threw four hitless innings Saturday night as Salt River staged a seven-run ninth-inning rally to beat Mesa, 8-2. The Blue Jays' right-hander struck out five and walked one, throwing 31 of his 48 pitches for strikes.
"I felt good with all my pitches, throwing strikes and able to find the zone. The defense was playing well. It was a good night," Hutchison said afterward. "I feel healthy, which is a plus. I feel real good. I feel like I've been getting stronger, and I've been feeling great. I'm just going to try to keep it going and get ready for next year."
Hutchison made his Major League debut in 2012, going 5-3 with a 4.60 ERA and 49 strikeouts in 58 2/3 innings before the injury knocked him off track. He underwent Tommy John surgery in August 2012 and worked his way back this year, throwing 19 innings at the end of the season for Triple-A Buffalo.
"It is a tough process, definitely. You just have to believe in the process, take it a day at a time and believe it's going to work out. And so far, it has," Hutchison said. "I'll just continue to go out there, get better each time and get all the way back."
Hutchison said he was slated to throw four innings or 60 to 65 pitches Saturday, so he "was where I needed to be." So, no, there weren't any thoughts about coming back out to continue his no-hitter. He hopes to increase his workload each time out, though not likely to his pre-surgery levels just yet.
Mesa didn't pick up a hit until the sixth inning, when Nationals' No. 1 prospect Brian Goodwin singled to left field. Salt River took a lead in the seventh, as Cristhian Adames' triple to center scored James Ramsey, but Mesa bounced right back in the bottom of the inning.
Cubs No. 3 prospect Jorge Soler singled to right and moved all the way to third on a botched pickoff attempt. Steven Souza Jr. walked and stole second, then Jett Bandy doubled home both baserunners to take a one-run lead.
But Salt River went on to take a commanding lead, long after Hutchison had exited the game, leading off the ninth with two singles and a walk. Then Taylor Lindsey committed a throwing error on a force attempt, emptying the bases and sending Adames all the way to third. Mike Freeman's single brought home Adames to increase Salt River's lead, then Mesa loaded the bases again -- still with no outs -- on another error and a hit batter.
Rays No. 14 prospect Ryan Brett knocked a soft liner to right, scoring Freeman and re-loading the bases. Consecutive sacrifice flies from Andy Burns and Stephen Piscotty brought home two more runs, then Nick Ahmed reached on a single before Ramsey struck out to finally cap off Salt River's huge inning.
The win ended up going to reliever Jake Barrett, but there's no doubt that Hutchison did the heavy lifting for Salt River's pitching staff. But after spending so much time sidelined, working out and throwing bullpen sessions and hoping to get back to who he was, Hutchison was more than happy with the end result.
"I'm feeling better and better. Toward the end of the year, I started to feel back to normal. Now, I feel completely healthy," Hutchison said. "I'm feeling good out there. Definitely everything's moving in the right direction, and I'm ready to continue to pitch well and head into Spring Training."