Badenhop on being Rays' middle man
Righty calls middle relief 'the most anonymous job in baseball'
Burke Badenhop has an interesting perspective on what it's like being a middle reliever in the Major Leagues.
"It's kind of like being a janitor," the Rays right-hander observed. "As long as you're doing your job, nobody complains. But the second you don't, everybody notices. I had one of those in Kansas City not too long ago."
On June 27, a sweltering 101-degree day in Kauffman Stadium, the Rays had fought back from a 4-0 deficit with two runs in the sixth inning and two more in the eighth. It was Kansas City's hottest day of the year and fears of dehydration were mounting on both benches.
Matt Moore had just retired Royals third baseman Mike Moustakas on a foul popup to third for the first out in the bottom of the eighth when Rays manager Joe Maddon pulled his starter after 98 pitches. On Badenhop's fourth pitch, Billy Butler homered to left for the winning run.
"Middle relief is the most anonymous job in baseball, unless you blow the game," Badenhop philosophized. "Then you get a lot of notoriety. I hadn't talked to reporters for about six weeks, which was a good thing. I'd been doing my job. I hadn't done anything worth writing about.
"Then I served up the gopher call to Billy Butler and it was like, 'Nice to see you guys again.'"
Badenhop, drafted in the 19th round by Detroit in 2005 and traded to the Marlins after the 2007 season, spent his entire Minor League career as a starter before moving to the bullpen in 2009. He's been there ever since, including this season, his first with the Rays.
"Most guys, if they fail as a starter, they wind up in the 'pen," he said. "For me, it is what it is. Maybe I'm better facing the lineup once through. Would I like to get back to starting? Maybe, but it's been a long time since then and honing your craft as a reliever is tough enough."
The starter and the closer know when they'll be needed.
"The role of the middle guy is not defined at all. He's got to be a lot more malleable, has to be ready to get into different situations," Badenhop said. "And if that's what keeps me in this game, I'll take it."
After graduating with honors from Bowling Green, he was prepared to take a job in procurement with pharmaceutical giant GlaxoSmithKline before the Tigers drafted him.
"My family always stressed academics," he said. "I considered myself a student first and an athlete second. It just so happens that I'm still playing today."
The 6-foot-5 Badenhop might have considered basketball, which he played through high school. His father Dalynn, a professor at the University of Toledo Medical Center, played at Bowling Green.
"He's left-handed. It sort of came out backward," he said. "If he'd been right-handed and played basketball and I was left-handed and played baseball, it might've worked out better.
"Maybe I could've played (Division III), but baseball obviously was a little bit more intriguing. And being 6-5 nowadays, you're a point guard, and I'm not quick enough and I can't defend well enough."
Badenhop's best game in relief -- or at least his most memorable -- came May 16, 2011, a game-winning single off the Mets' Ryota Igarashi at Citi Field.
"We'd managed our bench very poorly," he said. "I'd pitched the bottom half of the 10th, and in the 11th, we had a runner at second with two outs and we only had one bench guy left (Osvaldo Martinez) and only one guy (closer Leo Nunez) in the 'pen.
"So rather than burn that last guy, they put me up there and I got to a 3-2 count where I could guess fastball. I put a decent swing on it and hit it up the middle. If it wasn't on video, I wouldn't believe it."
Bruce Lowitt is a freelance writer based in Tampa, Fla.
This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.