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MLB

Shirley continuing upward movement in minor leagues

| Tuesday, June 24, 2014, 9:00 p.m.
Photo courtesy of Amanda Pruett/Corpus Christi Hooks
Tommy Shirley pitches during a game for the Class AA Corpus Christi Hooks during the 2014 season.
Photo courtesy of Amanda Pruett/Corpus Christi Hooks
Tommy Shirley pitches during a game for the Class AA Corpus Christi Hooks during the 2014 season.

Tommy Shirley experienced a breakthrough minor league baseball season in 2013, but the 2007 Norwin graduate is taking it to another level this summer.

Shirley, a left-handed starting pitcher for the Houston Astros' Class AA affiliate, the Corpus Christi Hooks, is among the pitching leaders in the Texas League and represented the Hooks in the Texas League All-Star Game this week.

“When I got put on Corpus Christi, my first goal (for the season) was to make the All-Star team,” Shirley said. “It's a really good feeling. There are a lot of high-round picks, first-round picks and really good players on the team, and even (among) guys that didn't make it. It's a pretty nice honor to make the team.”

The road to Tuesday's All-Star Game, which ended past the deadline for this week's edition, had some bumps for Shirley.

The Astros selected Shirley out of Xavier in the ninth round of the 2010 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft, and he made his minor league debut that summer. But a lingering knee injury that eventually resulted in surgery cost him parts of the 2011 and 2012 seasons.

Shirley came on strong in 2013 at Class A Lancaster, particularly in the second half of the season, finishing 1-4 with a 3.35 earned-run average in 27 games (nine starts).

The resurgence is continuing this year, as Shirley took a 5-3 record, 1.90 ERA and 69 strikeouts in 75 23 innings into the All-Star break. He leads the Hooks in virtually every pitching category and was named Corpus Christi Pitcher of the Month for April and May.

“It just took me a little time to get back, and now I'm fully back,” Shirley said. “At the start of last year, I turned a corner and pitched really well last year and just kept doing it this year.”

Shirley credited much of this season's success to the development of his changeup and curveball, which complement a fastball that runs from 92-95 miles per hour. He worked on the offspeed pitches with Corpus Christi interim pitching coach Doug Brocail, who spent 15 seasons in the Major Leagues, mostly as a reliever. Shirley said the changeup and curveball help him keep hitters off balance.

“I had those other two pitches last year, but I didn't throw them as much and they weren't as consistent,” he said. “This year, I really worked on that, and now I'm throwing them all the time.”

With a reliable three-pitch repertoire, Shirley hopes to eventually make it to the big leagues as a starter. While he has some strong numbers, he said he wasn't worried about when the Astros would call him up to Class AAA — the highest level of the minor league system.

The Astros are continuing to build from within, with several former top prospects now playing in the Major Leagues. Shirley hopes to join them one day soon.

“It's exciting because I know if I keep pitching well, I'm going to have a pretty good shot to be in the majors a lot sooner than later,” he said. “It's just exciting because I know I'm on the radar, that I can possibly help out one day if I can keep throwing the ball well.”

Doug Gulasy is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at 412-388-5830, via email at dgulasy@tribweb.com or via Twitter @dgulasy_Trib.

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