After more than three years, Mark Appel can finally say he’s pitching in the pros once again.
The 2013 No. 1 overall draft pick made his first professional appearance since September of 2017 for the Double-A Reading Fightin Phils on Saturday night, tossing 2 2/3 innings and surrendering one run in a 6-4 win over the Erie SeaWolves at FirstEnergy Stadium.
Appel impressed at times and struggled a bit at others. That’ll happen with 44 months in between outings. The 29-year-old was just happy to be back out there.
“It was a lot of fun, I had a great time,” Appel said on Zoom after the game. “… It was fun being back in kind of a real game situation where everything matters.”
Appel’s repertoire looked best early. He threw a scoreless first inning, giving up a single and getting a strikeout. His fastball topped out at 95 mph in that frame, sitting at around 94 mph for most of the inning.
The right-hander was a little fired up to get that first strikeout in a few years. He wasn’t an overly emotional pitcher on the mound in the first act of his playing career, but perhaps that changes this time around.
“I’m just having a good time. … And I’m sure that that’ll be seen by just my body language and kind of what I’m getting to do out there,” he said. “I don’t know if I necessarily want to control my emotions when they’re really positive, and I think they generally help me.”
Reading’s defense helped Appel keep a run off the board in the second, as center fielder Matt Vierling fielded a single from Erie’s John Valente and fired home to throw out Yariel Gonzalez to end the inning.
Appel was a bit wild throughout the outing, walking two and hitting two batters. It was especially noticeable in the third inning with the rain starting to come down. He hit a batter who later came around to score on a double by Jacob Robson. After walking Josh Lester with two outs, Appel was pulled with runners on first and second.
Left-hander Taylor Lehman came in for the starter and got a strikeout to end the inning. He went three innings piggybacking Appel, striking out seven and allowing a run to earn the win. Appel, Lehman, Zach Warren, Tyler Carr and Joel Cesar combined for 18 strikeouts in the game.
“Taylor came in and struck that guy out to kind of pick me up and all the guys, I think, pitched really well [Saturday], Appel said.
Appel’s fastball hovered around only 88 mph in that third inning. He hadn’t pitched an outing as long as Saturday’s since the 2017 season, so building sustained velocity over the course of a longer outing will be a work in progress.
“I haven’t thrown more than two innings in almost four years,” Appel said. “It’s been a really long time, so I’m giving myself a little bit of grace, a little bit of patience in being able to go deep in games just yet.”
The right-hander understands that he’s been away from the game, so that aspect of working as a starter won’t come right away and might not be easy.
“That is just a part of the process, knowing that my velo is probably not going to hold like it used to, back when I was at my best in college or even a pro ball,” he said. “I think it can again in the future. It’s just I’m not, I’m not there yet.”
If the ability to go deeper into games never comes, Appel would not be opposed to a move into the bullpen for shorter stints. The plan is to try to stretch him out and see what works.
“‘Hey, I’m here to help the Phillies out however that looks,” Appel said he told the team. “Whether you guys want me to start, whether you want me to be a bullpen guy … I’m great with that.”
Whatever role it might be in, Appel is excited to be playing again, serving as the “old guy” on a young Reading team that has won two games in a row.
“I’m just happy to be a part of it,” he said. “It’s fun to get a couple of wins and hopefully we can keep that rolling.”
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