LHP Ryan Rowland-Smith (Photo/Mariners)
SAN ANTONIO, Texas - For 22-year-old Ryan Rowland-Smith, the progression through the Seattle Mariners organization was the clearly designated path he was scheduled to follow. But 13 days into last December, the path changed for the Australian left-handed pitcher.
Rowland-Smith became a member of the Minnesota Twins after he was selected in Major League Baseball’s Rule 5 draft. Under the rules of the draft, Rowland-Smith had to make the Twins 25-man roster or be offered back to Seattle for $25,000.
“It was really good to go to a team that stuck their neck out to get me,” Rowland-Smith said. “It was good to know that they thought I was good enough to pitch in the major leagues.”
Rowland-Smith’s stats in Spring Training (3.38 ERA in eight innings) put him at the cusp of joining the 25-man roster but, according to the Twins, it simply wasn’t the time.
“In past years, he might have made this club,” Twins general manager Terry Ryan said in a press release. “With the health of (Terry) Mulholland and the way (C.J.) Nitkowski is throwing the ball and (J.C.) Romero, we've got three left-handers ahead of him.”
Disappointing? Yes. Confidence-shattering? No way.
“When I first found out I was coming back, I was down obviously to find out I wasn’t going to play in the big leagues,” Rowland-Smith said. “(The Mariners) put me back in the big league camp, which I thought was really good. I was able to soak it in and meet the coaches there. It was really positive coming back and it made me feel a lot better.”
The amount of change faced from the end of last season to the beginning of the 2005 campaign was tough for the lefty.
“Going into the off-season, you never know what their plans are for you,” he said. “It was good that a contending team like the Twins saw something in me and that the Mariners can say, ‘okay, this guy’s good.’ and know that people think I can do well.”
At the end of spring training when Minnesota was faced with the impending $25,000 question regarding Rowland-Smith, the Twins attempted to work out a trade with Seattle that would have allowed Minnesota to keep the pitcher, but according to Smith, the Mariners were excited to have him back.
“As soon as I found out I was coming back, I got a call from Benny Looper, the Mariners’ vice president of minor league scouting and development, and Greg Hunter, the club’s director of minor league operations, telling me that they were glad to have me back and that they didn’t want me to get traded away,” Rowland-Smith said.
That meant that instead of pitching in Minnesota’s Metrodome, Rowland-Smith headed back to Seattle’s organization, where he was assigned to Double-A San Antonio and the pitcher’s haven affectionately known as “The Wolff.” Pitching in a friendly environment – with the near constant winds blowing in from right field – is going to be a major benefit for both Rowland-Smith and the team.
Sitting in the Missions dugout, Rowland-Smith talked about what his team needs to do to avoid the same outcome from last year’s squad.
“In this ballpark, the ball doesn’t really travel. We (over the first few home games) did the little things we needed to do to score the run,” he said. “I remember last year (at High-A Inland Empire) we lost games because in the third or fourth inning we couldn’t push that runner over. Against Midland (a series in which the Missions were swept), we couldn’t do it and that changed the whole game.”
As of right now, Rowland-Smith’s role has yet to be clearly defined, but he wishes to continue starting games if he earns the right to do so.
“For me personally, I want to get as many innings as I can under my belt and just try to get as deep into the game as possible to give this team a chance to win,” he said. “It seems like every year I have to battle to get in the rotation and once I do, I have to battle to stay there. I’d really like to start and I like to drop a hint to the pitching coach that if he needs someone to start, I’ll start.”
Rowland-Smith is scheduled to start Tuesday’s series finale against the Midland Rockhounds.
We’re Going Streaking!: After the finish of Sunday afternoon’s game against the Midland Rouckhounds, three Missions are on current hitting streaks of four games or more.
Outfielder T.J. Bohn has a streak of 10 games, while infielders Nate Espy (eight games) and Jesse Hoorelbeke (six games) are both on a roll as well. Bohn sat out Sunday’s game.
During the streak, Bohn is hitting .325 (13-for-40) and stole two bases in Saturday’s 6-5 win. Espy is hitting .448 (13-for-29) and has walked eight times in the previous five games.
Surprise Start: Infielder Ismael Castro – out since Friday night with a strained quadriceps muscle – made a surprise entrance into the starting lineup at second base, moving Yuniesky Betancourt back to shortstop.
Castro hit in the sixth spot of the order and went 3-for-6 with two RBI in Sunday’s 7-6 win over Midland.
The 21-year-old Columbian got some early work in as he got an assist for the final out of the first inning.
Former Missions: The last few nights in the press box and down in the stands have posed some questions as to players from last year’s squad.
Utilityman Rob Gandolfo recently signed a contract with the independent Chico Outlaws of the Golden Baseball League. Gandolfo’s contract has an escape clause if the former infielder, outfielder, catcher and pitcher signs with any of the 30 Major League clubs. The Golden League begins play at the end of May.
Also showing up on the radar is former Missions and Tacoma Rainiers pitcher Jared Hoerman. Hoerman signed with the Lincoln (Neb.) Saltdogs of the Northern League. The Saltdogs open the 2005 season on May 20 at Sioux Falls, Iowa.
Northbound 35: After Tuesday’s series finale against the Midland Rockhounds, San Antonio leaves the Wolff for four games against the Arkansas Travelers and three games against the Springfield Cardinals.