Some pitchers are bottle rockets; exploding onto the scene and capturing everyone’s attention; Mark Fidrych, Dontrell Willis; star-dust and then in a flash….gone; back to a family farm or in the case of Willis; one Indy League comeback attempt after another.
In the shadows are turtles trudging along for 5, 6 or 7 years with bloated era’s and a back-end of the rotation home when suddenly something happens; maybe a new delivery or miracle meeting with a pitching coach, a Tommy John Surgery-some strange bionic revival. Whatever it is, the turtle arrives.
Kyle Lohse was drafted by the Chicago Cubs in the 1996 draft; 862nd overall pick. After five mediocre minor league seasons, Lohse was traded to the Minnesota Twins. He pitched six years and was a bit above average.; close to 200 innings each year with 2003 his best; 14 wins and 211 hits allowed in 200 innings.
But the hits and walks spiked over the next two seasons and Lohse was traded to the Cincinnati Reds, then the Philadelphia Phillies and in 2007, granted free agency. He signed with the St. Louis Cardinals. That’s where he bumped into Dave Duncan; the Cardinal’s pitching coach.
Lohse learned how to throw a 2-seam fastball, command his off speed pitches. He became more of a pitcher than a thrower and isn’t that what every pitching coach does or is supposed to do? Groom young arms and revive old ones.
Duncan and manager Tony Larussa are a story in itself. The two were inseparable; first with the White Sox, then Oakland and finally St. Louis. Larussa managed. Duncan developed pitchers. Their teams won. Duncan’s pitchers won Cy Young awards.
Lohse surprised everyone, except Duncan and the Cardinals. After an incredible first half to the 2008 season, they offered him a 4-year contract. But then Lohse regressed and began suffering fatigue in 2009 and 2010. Exertional compartment syndrome was the diagnosis. Some obscure condition causing swelling in arms and legs. Surgery was required.
Lohse was already 32-years old, but apparently saving the best for last or surgery worked wonders or age, experience, and Dave Duncan marinated a miracle.
In 2011, Lohse enjoyed the best year of his career and then he topped that with an even better 2012; winning 16 games, 2.86 ERA, WHIP around 1 and maybe most impressive-143 K’s and only 38 walks.
The Brewers waited until March 25, 2013; one week before opening day and signed Lohse to a 4-year contract, believing he was for real and had some gas left in the tank. Lohse has not disappointed.
The 35-year old was on the mound last night for game 2 against the Pirates and his performance? A clinic on how to pitch..
The very first batter of the game-Sterling Marte hit a towering pop up between the pitcher’s mound and home plate. The first and third baseman, catcher, and pitcher coffee clutched. “I got it. You got it.” Collision. The ball dropped. Marte safe at first. He steals second and the catcher’s throw sails into center field. Marte to third. He scores on Russel Martin’s groundball.
Then in the bottom of the third, center fielder Carlos Gomez failed to field a run scoring single by Martin cleanly. The runner advanced to third and the ensuing throw from Gomez was bobbled by shortstop Jean Segura. Martin advanced to second. Lohse walked Andrew McCutchen. Bases loaded and one out. Brewers already trailing 2-0.
Lohse struck out Pedro Alvarez and got Neil Walker to pop out. The game was decided right then and there. Lohse had ignored the errors and escaped the jam.The Brewers scored three times in the top of the fourth, again in the fifth and sixth.
In the seventh, Jean Segura committed the Brewer’s fourth error. Lohse then walked Marte and left the game; leading 5-2, Reliever Tyler Thornburg allowed a run scoring double to McCutchen. Will Smith replaced Thornburg and struck out Alvarez; a game to forget for him. Alvarez left 8 runners in scoring position.
A game of missed opportunities for the Pirates? Maybe, but also a game of Lohse keeping his composure and making those extra, unnecessary pitches with a clear head. But in the end, this game will be remembered for a different reason.
In the top of the sixth, Brewer’s catcher Martin Maldonado hit a hard ground ball to Alvarez at third base. Routine play, except the cover of the baseball ripped off and was flapping in the breeze. Maldonado had literally hit the cover off the ball. mythic.
Final score; Brewer 5; Pirates 3.
The Brewers are 12-5.