Perhaps nobody in Springfield is happier to see the calendar flip to September than St. Louis’ top pitching prospect.
Tink Hence surrendered six runs in the first two innings at Arvest Ballpark in Northwest Arkansas on Thursday night and took the loss as Springfield fell 8-4 to the Naturals, a sour ending to a bitter August for the Cards’ prized righthander.
The young sensation – Hence turned 21 on August 6 – went 0-3 with a 10.62 ERA and 2.16 WHIP in five August starts.
“A couple of rough outings before so just trying to get back in a good space, just brush it off and see what I need to do to be more consistent and elevate my game,” Hence said prior to Thursday’s game.
“I’ve been paying attention to a lot of my data that I get back from the game, deeper in the season your body starts to get tired on you…I feel like it’s a little slouchy in mechanics that kind of throws of the timing of stuff. When it gets to the game, I expect it to be there, but sometimes it’s just not there.”
“Just trying get more consistent and figure out what it is that makes me so effective,” Hence continued.
“Usually, I get a lot of ride on my fastball. Recently, in a couple of those outings, it’s been a little more “cut-ish” or sinking. So just working on my grip and figuring out what I can do to consistently get (ride) and consistently throw pitches where I want to throw them.”
The dog days of summer in the Texas League are the first blemish on what has been a meteoric rise for the Cards’ No. 2 ranked prospect.
Hence dominated opposing batters in Palm Beach and the Arizona Fall League last year. Success continued in Peoria this summer and earned Tink a trip to Seattle where he tossed a scoreless inning for the National League in the MLB Future’s Game.
Through nine starts in Double-A, Hence boasts a 2-4 record with a 6.47 ERA and 1.59 WHIP in 40.1 innings. Texas League hitters have touched him for 29 earned runs and seven homers, while Hence has walked 19, thrown five wild pitches and hit one batter.
“The biggest thing I’ve learned was just, here everything is a little bit smaller – (less) room for error. In High-A, maybe you get away with little things here and there. But (in Double-A) you make a bad pitch, or you don’t get the pitch where you’re supposed to, these guys are putting on good swings.”
Cards’ fans concerned by the numbers can find comfort by comparing them to the 2022 National League Cy Young Award winner.
Sandy Alcántara went 2-4 with a 7.09 ERA and 1.64 WHIP in 47 innings over his first nine starts with Springfield in 2017. Alcántara was mashed for 61 hits, nine home runs and 37 earned runs during that span. He threw 15 wild pitches, walked 16 and hit six batters.
Of course, the rest is history.
Hence – who entered the season with just 60.1 professional innings (he’s thrown 82 innings and counting this season) – said his biggest success this year has been staying calm under the pressure.
Springfield manager José Leger has been equally impressed with Tink’s demeanor.
“He’s learning, he’s learning. He’s getting adapted to the level. He’s had a taste of Peoria then coming in here, it’s different. Better hitters, more polished, more veteran players that he’s facing now.”
And the learning never stops – even off the field.
Hence was drafted alongside Jordan Walker and Masyn Winn during the COVID-year 2020 draft class. Hence and Winn make time to play video games together online – among their favorites is MLB 2K, and for Hence the video games aren’t just for relaxation.
“I learned how to play baseball through the game,” he said. “On the game I usually throw a lot of fastballs at the top of the zone – it translates (to real baseball) and keeps my mind going.”
Tink is expected to make one more start in Springfield when the Cards finish the 2023 home schedule next week.