Collin McHugh came to Arizona with the mission of improving his fastball against some of the Minors' best hitters. If he needed any reminder of his task, it came around noon in Peoria.
"You look at Justin Verlander, he won the Cy Young today, and not only was he nasty and struck out the world, but he threw more innings that anyone else," said McHugh, a Mets right-hander in his fourth season. "He uses his fastball, and he's got a great one. It's something to keep working on -- the better we can get, they better chance we get of sticking in the big leagues."
McHugh did his best Verlander imitation Tuesday, throwing five strong innings in his final outing of the fall as Peoria held on to beat Mesa, 11-9, in the Arizona Fall League.
The 24-year-old Georgia native dealt with runners on base in every inning, but managed to work out of trouble all afternoon.
"It went well, I felt like I had good command of all four of my pitches today," he said. "It was one of those things where if I can get ahead and work down in the zone, I can stay in the game a little longer. That's what I wanted to do, just execute a little better."
McHugh's lone run allowed came in the third, when the Orioles' Xavier Avery grounded into a bases-loaded double play that allowed Chris Herrmann (Twins) to race home.
"I threw a couple decent pitches in that inning, they did a good job staying on," he said. "I knew he'd put the ball in play. You'd concede one run, but you want to keep two out of the equation. I made a good pitch, got a double play, they made a good turn. You just want minimize damage at that point, and my defense did a good job of that."
The righty threw 39 of his 62 pitches for strikes.
"You're going three or five innings, but you want to get as much work in as you can, " he said. "You want to try to have a solid last outing, and that's something I've tried to do throughout the league so far. I feel like I've been building and getting better, just get through five, keep my team in the game like this."
The Mets' 18th-round pick in 2008 split his fourth season in the Minors between Class A Advanced St. Lucie and Double-A Binghamton, finishing a combined 9-4 with a 3.84 ERA in 27 outings (including 22 starts). He struck out 139 batters in 129 innings, earned three saves and tossed one complete game.
He'll finish the AFL season with a 2-3 record with 24 strikeouts in 27 innings and a 6.91 ERA.
"I'll take some confidence into the offseason, it was big for me," he said of Tuesday's win, his first victory since Oct. 14. "I hope I can use this moving forward and have it be a confidence builder."
McHugh got plenty of run support -- the Javelinas owned an 11-1 lead at one point -- thanks to multi-hit efforts from Scooter Gennett (Brewers), Logan Schafer (Brewers), Jason Hagerty (Padres), Ryan Jackson (Cardinals) and Wilfredo Tovar (Mets). Mariners shortstop Nick Franklin doubled and knocked home three runs as Peoria totaled 16 hits.
Mesa, though, stormed back in the ninth with a eight-run rally highlighted by consecutive homers by Joe Mahoney (Orioles) and Herrmann. The comeback ran out of gas when Avery, the potential go-ahead run, stranded runners at the corners with a groundout.
The narrow escape preserved the win for McHugh, though. He went back to his fastball command, something Verlander himself rode to a huge season.
"I think most importantly, we're all working on fastball command. The coaches down here and in the Minors, they tell us the way to get to the bigs and stay is to be able to command your fastball, and I think we've been working hard on that," he said. "You want to have more confidence in the zone, get more contact and get more strikeouts."
Danny Wild is an editor for MLB.com.