Sing a Ryan Vogelsong
By Justin Klugh
LIVE HOTSTOVE.COM WEBCAST WITH ME MONDAY AT SOME TIME I DON’T KNOW YET but it’ll be a doozy. Totally worthy of caps lock.
As Jamie Moyer sits in the hospital, recovering from the last journey to the center of his knee/groin/etc., there are others waiting to step up into the starting rotation void left behind by the veteran hurler.
One is Kyle Kendrick. He’s got experience with the Phillies already. He’s got marginal success with the team. He’s effective.
One is Drew Carpenter, a guy who appeared in the 2008 Grapefruit League and proceeded to strike out Jason Giambi, Jorge Posada, and Wilson Betemit in a game against the Yankees. He also had A-Rod ground into an inning-ending double play.
And then there’s Ryan Vogelsong, a pitcher who asks us to notice that Scott Mathieson isn’t the only guy in the Phillies organization getting Tommy John-ed into the next dimension. The Phils just gave him a minor league contract, and he’s one of the 13 non-roster invitees headed for Clearwater February 18.
It was the beginning of the last decade when Ryan first showed up in a major league uniform for the San Francisco Giants on September 2, 2000. He was not a part of the Giants sinister plans that season, as he was included in a trade that sent a brood of young players flying past each other between San Fran and Pittsburgh. He pitched two games in the Steel City before it all went to hell and a doctor was writing “Tommy John” on his chart.
In 2004, Ryan made his almighty return to the majors, where… he failed to excel in any meaningful way.
As a starter, Ryan’s 6-13 record and 6.50 ERA didn’t really get anybody in Pittsburgh fired up. In 2005, with a silent shrug, they slid him into the bullpen, where he performed a little better, going 2-2 with a 4.43 ERA.
Clearly, things weren’t going as planned. Ryan had underwhelmed as a starter, broken even as a reliever, and spent several years in recovery from that pesky surgery where they pluck your tendons until they work (as I understand it). A change may have been in order.
So, he hopped a plane to Japan and started hurling for the Hanshin Tigers. The plan worked, because his debut start showed a side of Ryan Vogelsong the world had yet to see: dominant. In six innings, he allowed one run and struck out five, and oh yeah, managed to sock a dinger over the wall of Koshien Stadium.
This past season, he pitched for the Orix Buffaloes, and if it pleases the court, I submit People’s Exhibit A: Video evidence of a 92 mph surgical strike with good movement from an arm that, less than ten years ago, underwent what may as well be called “Scott Mathieson” surgery (but is actually called Tommy John surgery).
“Come on in,” invites Ryan’s 76 mph slider to an opposing hitter, right before his high fastball slams the door (3:04) in their face. This is not the work of a man intent on another year at 6-13. Of course, I don’t know if he started the game in the video, because if he did, he was also responsible for seven runs by the sixth inning.
As a sidenote, I now love Japanese baseball. They have pleasant-voiced women announcing the players. I think I heard a marching band playing as Vogelsong started his wind-up. They don’t even let you walk in the left field aisles at CBP until the play is over. And at one point, the umpire’s signal for a strikeout looked like he was going to bring his fist down on the catcher’s skull like a hammer.
With his experience in Nippon Professional Baseball giving a much needed dose of confidence, we are seeing a Ryan Vogelsong who has reaped the benefits of another culture’s positive influence and seems to be capable of some authoritative pitching. Given his history and the Phillies bullpen being currently made of swiss cheese, he may be a good lock for some relief work.
Then again, going from a burn-out in Pittsburgh to a strong arm in Japan may mean that Ryan’s history shouldn’t be dictating his future.