Tagged: relief pitcher

June 14 – Happy Birthday Luis Aponte

515+Z33jqvL._SY300_This Venezuelan reliever and an obscure outfielder from the late 1950’s named Herb Plews are the only two players we could find on the Red Sox All-Time roster who were born on Flag Day. Luis Eduardo Yuripe Aponte was signed by Boston in 1973. He spent the next four years trying to make it up the ladder of the Red Sox farm system but couldn’t, so he “retired.” But instead of quitting all together, this right-hander began pitching in the Inter-American League where he developed a new pitch in the form of a very effective fork ball. That fork ball not only got him re-signed by Boston, it got him to the Major Leagues.

After two short but successful trials with the parent club in 1980 and  ’81, Aponte became a regular part of manager, Ralph Houk’s Red Sox bullpen in ’82 and ’83. He appeared in 40 games during his first full season in the big leagues, going 2-2 with 3 saves. He then went 5-4 in 1983 with 3 more saves and a decent 3.63 ERA. His Red Sox career ended during the 1984 spring training season, when he was traded to Cleveland for two minor leaguers. After pitching in 25 games for the Indians that year, his big league career was over. He eventually became a scout for the Cleveland organization. Aponte was born in El Tigre, Venezuela in 1953.

June 6 – Happy Birthday Junichi Tazawa

junichiWhy Boston signed Junichi Tazawa as an amateur free agent in December 2008 was pretty easy to figure out. Its how they signed him that was sort of unusual. At the time, the Red Sox were getting pretty good results from another right-handed pitcher from Japan. Daisuke Matsuzaka had already helped Boston win a World Series in 2007 and had gone 18-3 in ’08. The two pitchers both played their high school ball in Yokahama, but unlike Dice K, Tazawa decided he would not start his professional career in Japan. Instead, he intended to shop his services to the highest bidding MLB franchise in the United States.

That turned out to be Boston, who gave Tazawa a 3-year deal for $3 million, hoping that he would give them a second roll of the “Dice” to throw at opponents. He became just the third native of Japan to bypass Nippon Professional Baseball and sign directly with an MLB team.

After getting off to a good start in Double A ball the Red Sox brought him up in August of ’09 and put him in their rotation. He did fine until his fourth start against the White Sox, during which he was shelled for 10 hits and 9 runs in four innings. That got him demoted to the bullpen and in his next appearance a week later, those same White Sox jumped on him for five more runs in 3.2 innings. He also injured his pitching arm and was forced to undergo surgery and sit out the entire 2010 season.

So Tazawa proved he was not another Dice K, but over the past three seasons, he has shown his fastball, curve and forkball are good enough to get big leaguers out consistently as a middle reliever and set-up man. In 2012, he was one of the few bright spots on a bad Boston pitching staff, producing a 1.43 ERA in 37 games. He appeared in 71 regular season games during Boston’s 2013 Division-winning regular season and then performed close-to-brillantly in their postseason run to a World Championship.

May 26 – Happy Birthday Rob Murphy

murphyRob Murphy was one of baseball’s better left-handed middle relievers in the late 1980’s. After brilliant high school and collegiate baseball careers, this native of Miami, Florida was the first round pick of the Cincinnati Reds in the secondary phase of the 1981 amateur draft. During his rookie season with the Reds in 1986, he appeared in 34 games, won all six of his decisions and his 0.72 ERA that year remains a National League record for pitchers throwing a minimum of 50 innings in a season. In 1987, he appeared in a career high 87 games and struck out 99 batters in 100 innings of work. The following year he led the NL in appearances with 76.

Then two weeks before Christmas in 1988, the Reds and Red Sox made a deal in which they exchanged first basemen and relief pitchers. Boston got Murphy and Nick Esasky and sent the switch-hitting Todd Benzinger and right-hander Jeff Sellers to Cincinnati. At the time, Esasky was entering the final year of his contract, but even so, on paper this deal looked like it leaned heavily in Boston’s favor and in 1989, that’s exactly how it played out.

Esasky had a career year for Boston with career highs in homers with 30 and RBIs with 108. Murphy meanwhile  led the Red Sox bullpen in appearances with 74, pitching in front of closer Lee Smith. Though he lost seven of twelve decisions that year, he did pick up a career high nine saves and posted an impressive ERA of just 2.74.

Murphy then faltered in 1990. Though he picked up another 7 saves, his ERA ballooned to well over six and he lost all six of his decisions. He followed that up with a bad outing in the only postseason performance of his career in that years ALCS versus Oakland. One week before the ’91 season was scheduled to open, Boston GM sent Murphy to Seattle for a starting pitcher named Mike Gardiner.

Murphy continued pitching in the big leagues till 1995 and then got into the thoroughbred horse breeding business.

May 23 – Happy Birthday Reggie Cleveland

clevelandToday’s Beantown Baseball Birthday Celebrant was the first native Canadian to ever start a World Series game. Reggie Cleveland was born on this date in 1948, in a little town in the central Canadian province of Saskatchewan. He was involved in all sorts of sports as a kid but baseball was his passion and he was signed by the St. Louis Cardinals out of High School in 1965. He made his big league debut with the Cards four years later in the team’s next-to-last regular season game. Facing the Phillies that day, Cleveland got shelled and took the loss. He next got called up to St. Louis in mid-August the following year and again lost his one and only start of the season. He also lost three other decisions among the fifteen games he pitched out of the Cardinal bullpen in 1970 but he was getting great coaching and learning how to get big league hitters out.

By 1971, the right-hander was ready to become a part of St. Louis’s starting rotation and in 34 starts he went 11-11 with a 4.01 ERA, not great but also not bad for a first full year effort in the big leagues. He then put together back-to-back 14-win seasons while lowering his ERA to 3.01 by 1973 and it looked as if he was on the threshold of becoming a big winner for the Cards.

That’s why more than a few people were surprised when that December, St. Louis sent Cleveland, reliever Diego Segui and third baseman Dick Hughes to the Red Sox for pitchers Lynn McGlothen, John Cumberland and Mike Garman. Boston GM, Dick O’Connell told the press that Cleveland was the key to the transaction for the Red Sox. He too felt his new pitcher was ready to move up to the next level and he wanted Cleveland to make that move in a Boston uniform.

He would never become an elite big league starter but for the next four seasons, Cleveland was a valuable swing-man for the Red Sox pitching corps. During that time he appeared in 149 games for Boston, starting in 88 of them. He was a double digit winner in each of those years but with the exception of 1976, he pitched with an ERA in the low-to-mid four’s. His best season as a Red Sox record wise was 1975, the year the team lost to the Reds in the World Series. Cleveland was 13-9 and he made three appearances in that Fall Classic, including his historic start in Game 5, in which he took the loss.

By 1978, Boston was ready to let some of their younger pitchers develop at the big league level, making Cleveland expendable. He was traded to the Rangers during the first month of the ’78 regular season. He pitched in the big’s for three more years, retiring with a 105-106 career record (46-41 as a Red Sox.)

May 21 – Happy Birthday Andrew Miller

aMillerAndrew Miller has something in common with Michael Jordan. After his junior year at the University of North Carolina, just about every pro team wanted the 6’7″ southpaw, who had gone 13-2 for the Tar Heels in 2006 with a school record 133 strikeouts. It was the Tigers who used the sixth overall pick in that year’s draft to grab Miller in the first round. While the Bulls front office is still giving thanks every day that the team picking ahead of them in Jordan’s draft year chose Sam Bowie, the team picking after the Tigers in Miller’s draft year got Clayton Kershaw.

Detroit rushed Miller to the big leagues and he got 13 starts for the Tigers in 2007. But that December, he became one of five prospects Detroit shipped off to Florida to get Melky Cabrera. The Gainesville, Florida native then spent three seasons trying to secure a permanent  spot in the Marlins rotation but never did. In November of 2010, Miller was traded to the Red Sox for pitcher Dustin Richardson.

He got twelve starts for Boston in 2011 and won six of his nine decisions, but his ERA was a lofty 5.54 that year. In 2012, he was switched to the bullpen full time and has performed much better in that role. He got into 53 games as a reliever for Bobby Valentine’s 2012 ball club and posted an ERA of 3.35. He was then in the midst of putting together his best big league season last year when he tore ligaments in his foot and spent the second half of 2013 on the DL. His season ended with 37 appearances and a career-best ERA of 2.64.

He’s off to a decent start in 2014 and since he turns just 29 years-old today, he still has plenty of time to make his mark on the big league mound. He’s a strikeout pitcher with a dominant fastball. His problem has always been control. As a starter, he needed to get four different pitches to go where he wanted them to go. Coming out of the bullpen, he only has to focus on one or two. I think Miller’s best years may be yet to come.

May 18 – Happy Birthday Rich Garcés

51L9ZKD1ddL._SY300_Red Sox Nation loved their “El Guapo,” all six feet and two hundred and fifty pounds of him. Born in Venezuela, Garces was signed by Minnesota as an amateur free agent in 1988, when he was just 17 years old. He made his big league debut with the Twins in 1990 but could not stick with the parent club. Minnesota gave up on him in 1995 and so did the Cubs and Marlins.

The Red Sox then signed Garces that December and he spent the next three years bouncing back and forth between Pawtucket and Boston’s bullpen. It wasn’t until the second half of the 1999 season that he could finally unpack his suitcase for good and he was more than ready. He went 5-1 and posted an excellent ERA of 1.55.

In 2000 he won eight of nine decisions and became a Fenway fan favorite. As soon as he’d emerge from the Boston home dugout, the crowd would begin chanting his nickname. His magic continued in 2001, when he went 6-1, making his three year record 19-3. Then for some reason, the Red Sox front office insisted he lose weight during the offseason. He did as they asked but in addition to losing that weight, he lost his fastball and his ERA in 2002 shot up to 7.59. After that season. Garces never again pitched in a big league game.

April 28 – Happy Birthday Tom Sturdivant

sturdivantThe only member of the Boston Red Sox all-time roster to celebrate his birthday on this date was born in Kansas in 1930 and then raised in Oklahoma. The Yankees originally signed Tom Sturdivant out of high school as an infielder but he didn’t hit well in the minors. When he came back to the organization after serving a year in the military, Sturdivant was switched to pitching. He could throw hard and he developed a signature slithering curve ball that eventually earned him the nickname “Snake.” The Yankees called him up for the first time in 1955 and pitched him pretty much exclusively out of the bullpen. In ’56, Casey Stengel began starting him and he did well enough to become a regular part of that year’s Yankee rotation, winning 16 games. He duplicated that win total in 1957, and his .727 winning percentage that season led the AL. Sturdivant was also one of the league’s best hitting pitchers in the days before the DH took hold. In 1956, this guy hit .313. Stengel absolutely loved him but according to my research could either never remember or pronounce his last name so the Ol Perfessor just took to calling Sturdivant, “Number 47.”

The winning didn’t last long. In 1958 he tore his rotator cuff. The following May, the Yankees traded him and second baseman Jerry Lumpe to the A’s for Hector Lopez and Ralph Terry. Kansas City used him both as a starter and reliever for the rest of that ’59 season and he didn’t do well in either role. The fact that the Red Sox were willing to give the A’s their  solid back-up catcher, Pete Daley for the struggling Sturdivant in December of 1959 is evidence of just how bad the Boston bullpen had been that year. Unfortunately, Sturdivant did not make it any better. He appeared in 40 games for Boston in 1960 and finished the season with a 3-3 record, one save and an ERA that was just a sliver under five. Though he claimed his arm had recovered completely, he certainly wasn’t proving it on the mound. The Red Sox left him unprotected in the 196o AL Expansion draft and he was selected by the Senators. When he started slowly for Washington the following year, he was traded to the Senators where he actually pitched decently for two seasons. He spent his final big league days in a Met uniform during the 1964 season. He retired with a 59-51 lifetime record with 17 saves. He passed away in 2009 at the age of 78.

April 25 – Happy Birthday Ken Tatum

tatumThe only reason long-time Red Sox fans should remember today’s Beantown Baseball Birthday Celebrant is that he was one of the guys Boston got in return when they traded Tony Conigliaro to the then California Angels in October of 1970. At the time, Ken Tatum was a highly regarded young closer who had gone 7-2 during his 1969 rookie season with the Angels and saved 22 games. His ERA that year was a sparkling 1.38 and he finished fourth in the 1969 AL Rookie of the Year balloting. Tatum proved his debut season was no fluke when he followed it up with a 7-4, 17-save, 2.93 ERA year in 1970.

So when they pulled the trigger on the Conigliaro deal, the Red Sox front office figured Tatum would combine with Sparky Lyle to give the club one of the league’s best bullpens for years to come. That didn’t happen. Tatum was pretty much a bust for Boston. During his three seasons with the team he saved a total of just 13 games and ended up as a throw-in in the 1973 trade that sent Reggie Smith to the Cardinals in exchange for Rick Wise and Bernie Carbo. Meanwhile, Doug Griffin turned into a good second baseman for the BoSox and remained with the team for seven years.

Tatum was a native of Louisiana and he played college ball for Mississippi State. A right-hander, the Angels drafted him with their second round pick in the 1966 draft. I can remember when this guy beaned the Oriole center-fielder Paul Blair in the head during the 1970 season. Blair was never again the same hitter after the beaning. Tatum ended his big league career with the White Sox in 1974

March 28 – Happy Birthday Mark Melancon

melanconThe big league career of today’s Beantown Baseball Birthday Celebrant certainly got off to a rough and painful start. The New York Yankees selected the six foot two inch right hander in the ninth round of the 2006 MLB Draft. The ex-Yankee infielder, Andy Stankiewicz was the scout who signed him. Melancon was penciled in as a reliever and assigned to the team’s Staten Island minor league club and two weeks later, after just seven appearances, he was shelved for the season when it was discovered he needed Tommy John surgery. After a one-year recovery period, the Wheat Ridge, Colorado native got rolling. He went 19-2 during his next three seasons in New York’s farm system and also earned 15 saves.

He made his Yankee debut with 13 appearances during the team’s 2009 World Championship season. Whenever a reliever on the parent club was injured, they’d bring up Melancon to fill in for him. Although he made four trips up to the Bronx that year, he did not make Joe Girardi’s postseason roster, but he did post a respectable 3.86 ERA. He didn’t make New York’s big league roster the following year either but was called up in May and made what turned out to be his final two appearances in pinstripes. That July, the Yankees swung a deal for Houston slugger, Lance Berkman and Melancon was one of the two prospects New York gave up to get the switch-hitter. (Infielder Jimmy Paredes was the other.)

Finally getting a chance to pitch regularly at the big league level, Melancon took advantage of it. He went 2-0 with a 3.12 ERA during his first half-year in Houston and then had a break-out year in 2011 with a 20-save, 8 win- 4 loss, 2.78 ERA season in 2011. That December, the Red Sox were desperate to find someone to replace their closer, Jonathan Papelbon, who had just signed as a free agent with the Phillies. Boston offered Houston their utility infielder Jed Lowrie along with pitching prospect Kyle Weiland in exchange for Melancon and the Astros bit. As it turned out, the Red Sox were not planning on putting their new acquisition in the closer’s role. Two weeks after their deal with Houston, Boston made a trade for the A’s closer, Andrew Bailey.

I remember the ESPN/Boston blog boards were pretty enthusiastic about the two closers coming to Fenway and I didn’t blame them. I thought they’d do really well there. But we were wrong. First Bailey got hurt in spring training and remained on the DL till August. That forced Melancon into the closer’s role. The team got off to a horrible start during the 2012 regular season under new manager, Bobby Valentine and their new closer was a key culprit. He lost the season opener and then blew a save in his second appearance two days later. After giving up six runs to the Rangers in an April 17th game, his ERA was 49.50. He was a wreck and Boston was forced to send him down to Pawtucket to try and restore his game and his confidence. He pitched very well there and eventually made his way back to Fenway and pitched decently during the second half. But by then it was too late. The Bobby Valentine hiring had been a disaster for the Red Sox and Melancon would forever be tied to it. He was traded to Pittsburgh on December 26th of 2012. He has pitched like an All-Star since.

March 14 – Happy Birthday Bobby Jenks

$_35-1This troubled mountain of a man was signed by Boston to a two-year, $12 million free agent contract following the 2010 season. Part of the team’s plan was to pair him with their perennial all-star closer, Jonathan Papelbon to shut down opposing offenses during the final two innings of Red Sox’ games. The other part of the plan was to put some “closer” insurance in place just in case Papelbon himself decided to leave when he reached free agency following that 2011 season. Talk about poor planning.

Jenks appeared in only 19 games for Boston that first year before burry growth spurs on his spine turned his volcanic pitching motion into an exercise in agony and he was placed on the DL. Meanwhile, Papelbon did abandon Boston after that 2011 season to accept a huge deal from the Phillies.

Jenks would never again throw another pitch for Boston. It also now appears likely that he will never again pitch in the big leagues. When this 6’4″, 270 pound right-hander and his 100 mph heater came on the scene with the White Sox, he was the talk of baseball. He put together back-to-back 40-save seasons in 2006 and ’07 and it looked as if he might replace the great Mariano Rivera as the league’s top closer. That didn’t happen. Raised in a log cabin in a remote area of Idaho, Jenks had a well-publicized wild side that seemed to constantly get him into trouble. A hard living off-the-field life compounded by a sore arm and a volatile relationship with his also slightly crazy White Sox skipper, Ozzie Guillen, convinced Jenks the grass was greener in Boston. It sure wasn’t.