"Talking to Doug," Hagens said of Doug Drabek, the former 20-game winner and current Class A Advanced Visalia pitching coach, "my rhythm and tempo was off as a reliever. The main thing we worked on and straightened out was slowing myself down, not getting in a rush, controlling the ball and myself."
To find this mental state, Hagens -- a fourth-year D-backs prospect -- looks for a simple physical cue, whether it be tapping his glove before he comes set or tapping the toe of his cleat as he winds up.
"It's just about me feeling comfortable," he said. "Whatever is working that day."
Continuing his resurgence in the rotation on Saturday, Hagens had a heck of a night. He struck out seven over seven scoreless innings before the Rawhide dropped a 5-4 decision to the visiting Inland Empire 66ers. The 23-year-old right-hander allowed five hits and one walk.
"Everything was working, better than it has in a while," he said of his fastball, cut fastball, slider, changeup repertoire. "I was able to put the ball in spots."
Command -- really, a lack of it -- was the precursor to his struggles as a reliever. Arizona's sixth-round pick in the 2009 Draft combined for 54 relief appearances over his first two pro seasons before making 24 starts at Class A South Bend in 2011. He began this year back in the Rawhide bullpen, where he had a 6.48 ERA and 25 strikeouts over 33 1/3 innings.
As a starter? His ERA shrinks down to 2.89 and his pitches -- the fastball and cut fastball are his go-to offerings -- gain traction: 45 strikeouts in 46 2/3 innings.
It all started when Hagens, a Merced College product, made a spot start on June 25 against Bakersfield. He pitched well and carried his newfound confidence into a scoreless relief outing on June 29 at Stockton.
While Hagens said he does not prefer starting over relieving (or vice-versa), the Rawhide moved him into the rotation for good on July 3. Against the same 66ers' lineup he faced Saturday, he gave up two hits over five shutout frames.
That was just the beginning: He's given up one earned run or fewer in six of his last eight starts. Of his renaissance, he said, "It's been a blast, made the game fun. I play better when it's fun."
Inland Empire starter Andrew Smith didn't enjoy himself to the same degree. While he didn't factor in the decision, he gave up four runs on six hits -- including Yazy Arbelo's two-run homer -- over six innings.
The four-run cushion was not enough for the Rawhide, as the 66ers scored five times over the final two innings to reverse their fortune. Angels top prospect C.J. Cron drove in two with an eighth-inning double, giving him seven RBIs over his past three games and a California League-leading 110 on the season.