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Spokane Chiefs

Former Gonzaga pitcher Gabriel Hughes makes sparkling first spring training start for Colorado Rockies

Former Gonzaga star Gabriel Hughes delivers a pitch in his first MLB spring training game with the Colorado Rockies on Monday.  (Cheryl Nichols, For The Spokesman-Review)

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. – This time last year, Gabriel Hughes was wearing the uniform of the Gonzaga Bulldogs, mowing down batters across the West Coast Conference.

On Monday, he started against the Los Angeles Dodgers.

Hughes, 21, was called up from the Colorado Rockies minor league camp to make his first career Cactus League start in an evening game at Salt River Fields, the Rockies spring training complex.

It could not have gone better. Before a capacity crowd, Hughes went three innings and allowed no runs on one hit with four strikeouts and no walks. He faced the minimum number of batters, erasing his only blemish, a one-out single in the third inning, with a double play.

It didn’t matter that the Dodgers’ lineup was missing Mookie Betts and Freddie Freeman, both still away from the club due to the World Baseball Classic.

“I’ve been hoping for this opportunity in spring training,” Hughes said. “I’m really thankful that I got the opportunity. … Why not? You know, why not have it be the Dodgers? I’ll get to face them eventually. So why not get it out of the way right now?”

Hughes’ first pitch was a 96 MPH strike and he proceeded to strike out veteran big leaguers David Peralta, Chris Taylor and Jason Heyward in succession in the first inning.

“I felt incredible,” Hughes said. “You know, it feels like making your (MLB) debut, but there are no words to describe how much fun it was to go out there and just play baseball.

“It passed in a blur pretty much, but I was really happy. As soon as I got off the field, I just looked around and was like ‘Okay, did it. One step, onto the next.’ “

A 1-2-3 second inning followed, punctuated by a called strike three to Steven Duggar to end the frame. Hughes allowed his only hit in the third, a one-out single to eighth-place hitter Ryan Ward. He came back to get Dodgers catcher David Freitas to roll over into a 6-4-3 double play to end his stellar and efficient appearance.

He threw 36 pitches, 23 for strikes. Hughes met his catcher, MLB veteran Elias DIaz, about an hour before the game.

“I was impressed. You know, obviously I was excited for Gabe to pitch tonight,” Rockies manager Bud Black said.

“And you know what I liked about it was his teammates – the guys were excited for him. And he came out and he pitched a very nice three innings tonight in an exhibition game against the Dodgers.”

Hughes was the Rockies’ first-round pick in the 2022 MLB draft, No. 10 overall. For GU in the spring, he had posted an 8-3 win-loss record with a 3.21 ERA and 138 strikeouts over 98 innings .

He spent most of the summer at extended spring training before making his professional debut on Sept. 10, a three-inning shutout stint for the Low-A Fresno Grizzlies – his only appearance of the season.

Hughes’ assignment for this season has not been announced yet, but he won’t be breaking camp with the Rockies. Monday’s big league spring training outing was a onetime gig, for now.

If he returns to the Grizzlies to start the season, it probably won’t be long before he gets the call to move up to Spokane with the Indians, the Rockies’ High-A affiliate.

The Rockies’ lineup for Monday evening’s game was sprinkled with recent Spokane Indians: Michael Toglia, Zac Veen and Brenton Doyle started for Colorado. Reserve position players Hunter Goodman, Drew Romo, Hunter Stovall, Aaron Schunk, A.J. Lewis and Kyle Datres and pitchers Stephen Jones and Blake Goldsberry all wore a Spokane uniform over the past two seasons.

“It’s a lot of really solid guys with me in Fresno,” Hughes said. “I think we’re going to move up together and being able to go out there with guys who have played in Spokane, who have played in Hartford, who have played in Albuquerque and have played in the bigs – it’s huge having that experience behind me and knowing that I might be nervous out there, but they’re not going to be because they’ve been there, and they’ve done that.”

The former Indians figured prominently in the Rockies’ second-inning rally. Veen smashed a line drive that went for an RBI infield single. Doyle followed with a broken bat RBI knock that sent Veen to third, then Doyle stole second. Yonathan Daza stranded the runners after striking out to end the inning.

The Rockies won 5-1 with Hughes earning the win.