Rangers' Wolff tosses five scoreless in Fall League
After missing the entire 2015 season, Sam Wolff is rounding into form in the Arizona Fall League.
The Rangers' right-hander was sharp Monday in his fifth Fall League start, allowing one hit over five scoreless innings as Surprise and Peoria battled to a 4-4 tie in 11 innings. Wolff yielded one walk and struck out one batter, throwing 37 of his 55 pitches for strikes in the outing.
"The changeup was a big pitch for me today, throwing to righties and lefties and keeping it down in the zone," Wolff said after the game. "I got two ground balls with that. That was kind of the pitch I could go to today to keep hitters off balance."
Wolff, 24, has now rattled off back-to-back scoreless starts for the Saguaros.
"I've been able to pound the zone and get ahead with the first or second pitch of the at-bat, and then let my defense work behind me," Wolff said when asked about his last two outings. "That's been the biggest thing for me in those starts: pounding the zone."
A sixth-round Draft pick in 2013 from the University of New Mexico, Wolff was dominant out of the bullpen during his professional debut, posting a miniscule 0.60 ERA and 0.97 WHIP while tallying 44 strikeouts in 30 innings (21 appearances) between Class A Short Season Spokane and Class A Hickory. He also saved five games in six opportunities and held opposing hitters to a .183 average in that span.
The Rangers moved Wolff into a starting role the following year and simultaneously challenged him with an assignment to Class A Advanced Myrtle Beach for his first full pro season. The 6-foot-1, 190-pound righty performed about as well as could have been expected, going 9-5 with a 3.37 ERA and 81 strikeouts in 120 1/3 innings (23 starts) for the Pelicans.
Wolff appeared bound for an Opening Day assignment to Double-A Frisco this year until he suffered a torn Achilles tendon during Spring Training, ending his season before it even began.
"It was definitely tough," he said. "But it's one of those things where it happened, and the sooner I came to terms with that, I was able to focus on little things day by day. I stopped thinking how I was missing the season and started looking at it as an opportunity to get in better shape and get ready for next season."
Wolff is making up for his lost 2015 campaign in the Fall League, where, after struggling initially, he now owns a 3.54 ERA through 20 1/3 innings. However, the righty isn't concerning himself with any numbers.
"Just being as competitive as I can be and pitch deep into games. It's kind of been my whole goal just to get back into that competitive nature: throwing to hitters, really battling, just that team atmosphere," he said.
On top of that, Wolff is happy to report he hasn't experienced any lingering effects from the early-season injury.
"It's at the point now where it feels like nothing ever happened," he said. "I really worked hard this summer and put forth a lot of effort to get myself physically in the best shape possible for the fall."
It didn't take long for Surprise to score the first run of the game, as Jurickson Profar plated center fielder Charlie Tilson, who had walked on eight pitches to begin the game, on a groundout to shortstop in the top of the first. The Saguaros added to their lead in the fourth inning, when third baseman Patrick Wisdom drove in Tyler Austin with a single to left field.
Wolff and a host of relievers held Peoria's offense in check until the bottom of the ninth inning, when by D.J. Peterson and Mike Yastrzemski each delivered an RBI single with two outs to tie the game, 2-2.
While Surprise regained the lead in the top of the 10th inning on a Profar RBI single, the Javelinas, down to their final out for the second straight inning, ultimately tied the game on a single by shortstop Tyler Smith.
The craziness continued in the 11th inning as Surprise pushed across a run to take a 5-4 lead, only to see D.J. Peterson lead off the bottom half with a game-tying solo home run to right field. The game was called after the inning, marking the first tie of the AFL season.
Peterson, the Mariners' No. 3 prospect, went 2-for-4 with two RBIs to pace Peoria's offense, while Smith, also a product of Seattle's farm system, went 3-for-5 with an RBI and stolen base. Both players also scored a run in the contest.
The Saguaros' offense was paced by Profar, who went 1-for-4 with a walk and two RBIs. Tilson, the Cardinals' No. 7 prospect, scored a pair of runs and stole two bases out of the leadoff spot, while his fellow Cardinals prospect Wisdom (No. 12) finished 1-for-5 with an RBI and his first two stolen bases of the Fall League. Austin also swiped a pair of bags for Surprise in the contest, giving him six in 14 games on the fall.