ROUND ROCK, Texas -- Right-hander Nick Tepesch's stint in Triple-A Round Rock was a short-lived, but productive one.
Making his Triple-A debut while preparing to make his Major League debut next week, Nick Tepesch gave up five hits and one unearned run in five innings, striking out five and walking none on Thursday night. The effort was good enough to earn a win on Opening Day as the Express beat Omaha, 3-1, in their first game of the year.
"That's pretty common Nick Tepesch," Round Rock pitching coach Brad Holman said. "What you see is what you get. He doesn't change a whole lot. ... His first game out of the gate and obviously there's going to be some adrenaline and anxiousness. I thought he actually got better as the game went along.
Tepesch's performance was a drastic improvement from his last Spring Training start, when he gave up eight runs on 12 hits over five innings during a loss to the Rockies on Mar. 22. He threw 77 pitches, 56 for strikes, Thursday and is scheduled to start next Tuesday against Tampa Bay.
"I just commanded all my pitches," Tepesch said. "I felt like I commanded the zone pretty good tonight. That last [Spring Training outing] against the Rockies, I maybe wasn't commanding my pitches as well, left some pitches over the plate."
Tepesch, the Rangers' No. 18 prospect, had no such struggles on Thursday, allowing just three balls to leave the infield without surrendering an extra-base hit. He held Omaha scoreless through four innings, fanning five along the way. Omaha came close to scoring in the second, when a throwing error by Mike Olt put runners on second and third with one out.
But Tepesch got out of the jam, striking out Irving Falu and getting Willy Taveras to ground out to second and end the threat.
"He's a quick student. He takes things and he's not afraid to try them," said Holman, who worked with Tepesch last season while serving as the pitching coach for High Class A Myrtle Beach. "With a runner on second and third he did the slidestep for the offensive standpoint of it, not necessarily to control the running game and got the ground ball to second base to get out of the inning. That's something he's only recently adopted."
After Falu started the fifth inning with a single to left, Taveras hit what appeared to be a routine double-play ball to shortstop Jurickson Profar, but Chris McGuiness dropped the throw from second baseman Yangervis Solarte.
Profar made a sliding stop to his left on a ground ball hit by the next hitter, Paulo Orlando, but couldn't make an accurate throw to first base. The ball caromed off McGuiness' glove, putting runners on the corners with one out for David Lough, who reached on a fielder's choice by running out another double-play ball, this one to McGuiness, allowing Taveras to score.
Tepesch stopped the bleeding by getting Christian Colon to ground out to third, ending the inning. He was replaced by Scott Lindblom in the sixth. Tepesch felt good about how he threw his fastball and curveball, but thought his slider could have been better.
"I wasn't too happy with my slider tonight," Tepesch said. "I felt, overall, it was OK, but I didn't really command that one pretty well."
Tepesch, who started last season in Myrtle Beach and finished in Double-A Frisco, believes his changeup could make a big difference for him in his first season in the big leagues.
"The changeup is a huge pitch," Tepesch said. "That's obviously my fourth-best pitch, but I feel like I've gotten a lot better with my changeup and overall command, knowing situations a little better. I'm just trying to learn something every day."
The 24-year-old Tepesch went 11-6 with a 3.67 ERA, striking out 127 and walking 44 batters between stints with Myrtle Beach and Frisco last year. Tepesch was 0-1 with a 6.50 ERA in five appearances, including three starts, for the Rangers during Spring Training.
But Thursday night's start was a step in the right direction for Tepesch, who said he won't approach next Tuesday's start in Arlington any differently than he did Thursday's or any outing for Myrtle Beach or Frisco last season.
"[My mindset] doesn't change at all," Tepesch said. "As you go up the ladder, you're going to face better and better hitters. ... You don't try something different just because somebody different is standing in the box."
Next week, for the first time in Tepesch's career, it'll be big league hitters standing in the box.
Christian Corona is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.Less