HOUSTON -- The good news for the Astros is right-hander Mark Appel, the No. 1 overall pick in last year's First-Year Player Draft, was throwing with good velocity, averaging 95 mph, in his return to the rotation Saturday at Class A Advanced Lancaster.
But giving up 10 runs on hit 10 hits, including three homers, in only 1 1/3 innings of work was certainly not what the Astros anticipated seeing from the 22-year-old. Appel walked a batter and struck out two as the JetHawks lost, 16-13, to Rancho Cucamonga.
Appel's start was his first since spending about a month at extended Spring Training after he struggled to adapt to the tandem starter schedule at Lancaster earlier in the season. The Astros began the season using eight starters at each level of the Minor Leagues, though they recently went to a six-man rotation at Triple-A. Under the tandem system, each starter throws every fourth day and and is followed in that game by another starter.
"Clearly, not the result we wanted in his first outing back, but we're optimistic that he's going to put this behind him and go there and execute," Astros general manager Jeff Luhnow said. "There's things he needs to learn from this outing and he will. I get much more concerned when guys have trouble finding the strike zone.
"For him, it's about getting better command inside the strike zone, getting the ball down and maybe coming in a little bit and doing some of the other things he needs to do to be more effective, especially there in that [hitter-friendly] environment [at The Hangar]. Things tend to be amplified there. What could be a fly ball in another environment ends up being a home run there."
Luhnow said Appel's arm strength was there, so that's not an issue. Eight of his 10 runs came on three home runs, and all three of those were fastballs up in the zone.
"It's one of those things that's unfortunate, but in Lancaster, that happens," Luhnow said. "And I'm not making excuses for him, but it's an environment where there's a pretty brisk [wind] blowing, and you've got to learn how to keep the ball down. That was his big challenge last night.
"He did throw some good changeups for strikes and he threw a couple of sliders, but in general, it was a matter that he couldn't get his fastball down."
In four starts for Lancaster last month, Appel allowed 10 runs (nine earned) on 17 hits in 13 innings. He walked four batters and struck out 13. Last year, he went 3-1 with a 3.79 ERA in 10 starts between short-season Tri-City and Class A Quad Cities.
Brian McTaggart is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, Tag's Lines. Follow @brianmctaggart on Twitter.