There wasn't much to look back on from Cole Henry's first Minor League start. The second one was a different story.
To say it was a long time coming would be an understatement.
"It certainly was a surreal feeling and something I've looked forward to my entire life," Henry said of becoming a professional ballplayer. "My dream as a kid was to make the big leagues and now I'm officially on my way towards achieving that."
Coming off an uneven performance in his Minor League debut, the 21-year-old set the tone early and never let up. Henry struck out the first two batters of the game but allowed a single to Phillies No. 23 prospect Jhailyn Ortiz. The two-out base hit proved noteworthy by the end of Henry's outing, since it would be the lone runner to reach base against him. Beginning with the final out of the opening frame, the right-hander struck out nine of the last 16 batters he faced, including four in a five-batter sequence bridging the third and fourth innings.
Henry was economical as well, needing just 77 pitches (54 strikes) to get through his longest outing since Feb. 28, 2020, when he was still pitching collegiately at LSU.
"I felt more comfortable tonight. I was able to control my emotions a little better, make the pitches I needed to make and then got into a groove," Henry said. "I threw a lot of fastballs tonight and kept them off balance with my changeup. My command was really good but the biggest thing for me was trusting my stuff and having the conviction to throw what I wanted to throw and letting my fielders do their jobs if the batters put it in play."
The performance was in stark contrast to his first outing when the Florence, Ala., native was charged with four runs, five hits, a walk and a hit batsman in five innings against Aberdeen on May 7. As Henry tells it, he wasn't overly disappointed in his first start, but he did work in between starts to correct some inconsistencies.
"I felt like I made a few mistakes here and there in my first start. I left some pitches up in the zone and it cost me," Henry said. "I worked a lot this last week on my 'out' pitches and that was the difference tonight. Last week, I couldn't put guys away and they made me pay. Tonight, when I got ahead 0-2 or 1-2, I was able to put the hitters away. My changeup and curve were consistently down in the zone, which is where I want it."
Taken in the second round of the 2020 Draft, Henry carved out a strong, albeit brief, collegiate career with LSU. He posted a 3.03 ERA and averaged 11.1 strikeouts per nine innings across 18 appearances, including 15 starts with the Tigers. Now, he can officially call himself a pro.
"Oh man, the wait seemed to take forever," Henry said. "I can't tell you how tired I was of facing the same guys over and over again. It feels good to compete, to see fans in the stands and to face players in different uniforms. It feels normal again and I'm excited to see what the rest of the season brings."
Francys Pegeuro fanned one and allowed a hit over two scoreless frames before Nationals 10th-ranked prospect Matt Cronin struck out the side in the ninth to complete the shutout.