D-backs' Henry gets feet wet with Hops
HILLSBORO — This spring, he was part of the longest possible run in college baseball.
His first run as a pro was a lot shorter.
But the Arizona Diamondbacks are still expecting a lengthy career from Tommy Henry.
The 74th pick in this year's MLB draft, Henry was the star pitcher on the Cinderella Michigan team that took Vanderbilt to a third game in the best-of-three College World Series finals in Omaha, Nebraska.
The D-backs assigned Henry to the Single-A Hillsboro Hops, who are making a second-half push as they attempt to win their third Northwest League championship in seven years.
Henry got his professional feet wet in July, but the Arizona organization doesn't want him diving in until later.
After throwing 124 innings for Michigan this year, he joined the Hops on July 7 and pitched three total innings in three games (all starts). He allowed four hits and three runs (two earned), with no walks and four strikeouts.
The Diamondbacks have shut down the 6-3, 205-pound left-hander to give his body some needed rest.
"He threw a lot of pitches in college, and (the Diamondbacks) are trying to save his arm and build him up for next year," said Hillsboro manager Javier Colina. "I am happy for him because now it's time for him to rest and get stronger, but at the same time, he's such a great pitcher and we need him."
The Hops hope his playoff leadership from the dugout can help them make the playoffs and win a title.
"He competes his (butt) off," said Hillsboro pitching coach Barry Enright. "He's also been a great teammate and great clubhouse guy."
Henry got immeasurable experience helping upstart Michigan go from a bubble team to the CWS finals against powerhouse Vanderbilt. The Wolverines navigated through the Corvallis regional, a super regional (at No. 1 UCLA) and the College World Series, finishing 50-22. Henry was 12-5 with a 3.27 ERA and 135 strikeouts.
"You didn't really get to do too much soaking in because you had to stay in business mode. There was still a task at hand," Henry said of what it was like to knock off one opponent after another. "To feel the energy we got back in Ann Arbor and the recognition for the baseball team was really cool."
Henry had several noteworthy performances. On Feb. 22, he threw an 88-pitch, one-hit shutout of The Citadel, striking out 13 batters. On March 8, in a game he started, the Wolverines defeated then-No. 2-ranked UCLA in Los Angeles. In his first game in Omaha, Henry threw a three-hit shutout against Florida State, striking out 10. On June 24, in Game 1 of the CWS finals, Henry pitched 8.1 innings to defeat Vanderbilt 7-4.
The game that best exemplifies who Henry is as a competitor, however, was the June 9 win over No. 1 UCLA. After splitting the first two games of the super regional, the winner would move on to the CWS while the loser's season would end. Henry, who was battling the flu and pneumonia, took the mound and earned the win with seven innings of two-run ball.
"He went out there with zero energy and physically ill, giving us seven innings and holding down the No. 1 team in the country," said Michigan pitching coach Chris Fetter. "The lasting memory of Tommy Henry will be that game against UCLA and what he did for the team to get us to Omaha. It was special, gutsy and all the other adjectives you can imagine."
Although he was a solid prospect before 2019, Henry really arrived with a change in velocity, repertoire and mentality on the mound.
"He has an extreme work ethic, and he's just a guy that you know was going to do the right things on or off the field," Fetter said. "He's about as consistent a guy as you'll see as a college student-athlete."
Henry, one of Michigan's captains, wasn't a traditional, in-your-face leader. He led by example, always holding himself to a high standard.
"When he did speak, it carried weight," Fetter said. "He's not a big talker all the time, or a 'rah-rah' type of leader, he went about his business the right way, and the guys followed based on his work ethic."
All this made him an enticing draft prospect. Henry found out he was drafted right after the Wolverines defeated Creighton to make it to the super regional. His parents and teammates were there to congratulate him.
"That was the perfect group to celebrate with — the guys you're with on a daily basis, working toward that goal, and your parents, who have been there since Day One," Henry said. "You couldn't draw it up any better. It was like a movie."
Henry said one pitcher who has influenced him is Justin Verlander of the Houston Astros, an eight-time All-Star and 2017 World Series champion with the Detroit Tigers. Henry, from Portage, Michigan, watched Verlander throw two no-hitters and win the MVP, Cy Young and Rookie of the Year awards with the Detroit Tigers from 2005-2017.
"You had to rip the ball out of his hands to take him out of the game. He was that competitive," Henry said. "While we're not really comparable as pitchers, I admire those intangibles and try to use them myself."
Henry plans to bring that kind of fire to the mound during his minor-league journey. Those who know him expect to see that happen.
"It doesn't matter if it's a scrimmage in the fall or the first game of the College World Series finals, he brings the same kind of mentality to the field. He's a winner," Fetter said. "He's got a lot of that 'me versus you' competitiveness in him. He wants to get every hitter out."
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