Movin' On Up: Rzepczynski joins Jays
Toronto breaks new ground in pitcher debuts
The ultimate goal for every Minor Leaguer is to reach the Major Leagues. Every week, Movin' On Up will take a look at prospects who have reached that goal and made their big league debut.
Fans on hand at Tropicana Field on Tuesday night during the Tampa Bay Rays' 3-1 extra-inning win over the Toronto Blue Jays can't be blamed if they did a double -- or even triple -- take when they saw the name on the back of the opposing starter's uniform.
And they can't be blamed if they couldn't pronounce it.
But odds are that even if they can't pronounce the name, they won't be forgetting the pitcher.
Toronto Blue Jays southpaw Marc Rzepczynski made his big league debut July 7, and though he wasn't around for the decision, he did his share to impress with six innings of two-hit ball, allowing one run and striking out seven while walking four.
Rzepczynski had his contract purchased from Triple-A Las Vegas earlier in the day when catcher Michael Barrett was outrighted to make room on the roster.
A fifth-round pick in 2007 out of Cal Riverside, Rzepczynski became the fifth starting pitcher to make his Major League debut in a Jays uniform so far this season, and the club can only hope he enjoys similar success to fellow southpaw Ricky Romero, who debuted the first week of the season and had a 24-inning scoreless streak snapped on July 6 against the Yankees.
The last time the Jays had as many as four starting pitchers debut with the club in a season was their inaugural 1977 summer.
Rzepczynski has emerged as one of the club's most promising prospects over the course of the last year, when he made his full-season debut at Class A Lansing by going 7-6 with a 2.83 ERA, striking out 124 in 121 innings.
This year he'd combined between Double-A New Hampshire and Las Vegas for a 9-5 record and 2.66 ERA with 104 strikeouts in 88 innings, including going 2-0 with a 0.79 ERA with Vegas. His 104 strikeouts tied him for seventh in the Minors and his 10.64 strikeouts per nine inning also ranked in the top 10 among starters.
That Triple-A success notwithstanding, his promotion Tuesday was still unexpected and sudden. Lefty Brad Mills, another one of the five starting pitchers to have debuted this season (the other two were current Jays southpaw Brett Cecil and right-hander Robert Ray), had been expected to get the call to replace DL'd starter Scott Richmond, but bruised ribs left Mills unavailable and so the clubhouse attendant was put to yeoman's service sewing up the new uniform.
The following players also made the Major League debuts between July 3-9:
Aaron Bates, 1B, Boston Red Sox
CALLED UP: Contract purchased from Triple-A Pawtucket on July 6 when IF/OF Jeff Bailey went on the disabled list and SS Jed Lowrie was transferred to the 60-day DL.
DEBUT: July 6 in a 6-0 loss to Oakland. The starting first baseman, he batted ninth and went 0-for-3 as the team was two-hit.
NOTES: The North Carolina State product -- drafted in the third round of 2006 -- has been one of the system's more intriguing power hitters, making a splash on the scene in '07 when he became the first player to hit four homers in a California League game, earning him that year's MLB.com's honor for the top single game performance by a Class A player. He hit .332 with 24 homers and 88 RBIs in just 98 games for Lancaster that season, and he led the league with a .456 on-base percentage before moving up to Double-A Portland for the final month. He hit .276 with 11 homers and 68 RBIs for the Sea Dogs in '08 and started '09 back with the team, batting .340 and earning Eastern League Player of the Month honors for May before moving up in early June to Pawtucket, where he hit just .182 in 24 games prior to his promotion.
Jarrett Hoffpauir, 2B, St. Louis Cardinals
CALLED UP: Contract purchased from Triple-A Memphis on July 1 when P Clayton Mortensen was sent down.
DEBUT: July 3 in a 7-4 win over Cincinnati. Pinch-hitting for LF Chris Duncan in the eighth inning, he drew a walk and remained in the game at second base, with Skip Schumacher moving to left. In his next at-bat, he delivered a two-out, two-run single in the ninth to give the Cards the lead.
NOTES: Hoffpauir, no relation to Cubs rookie Micah Hoffpauir, became the 15th rookie to play for the Cardinals this season and the ninth to make his Major League debut. A sixth-round pick in 2004 out of Southern Mississippi, he was hitting .276 with 10 homers and 31 RBIs at Memphis and was the organization's Minor League Player of the Month for June, hitting .327 in that span. The move was made to give the club some infield flexibility after newly acquired veteran Mark DeRosa suffered a wrist injury and shortstop Khalil Greene went on the DL earlier in the week. Limited pretty much to second base, Hoffpauir does not have the defensive versatility of DeRosa, but he was hitting .340 against left-handers, so he's a valuable bat.
Jose Lobaton, C, San Diego Padres
CALLED UP: Contract purchased from Triple-A Portland on July 5 when C Henry Blanco went on the DL.
DEBUT: July 8 in a 6-2 loss to Arizona. The starting catcher, he batted eighth and went 0-for-3.
NOTES: Considered the best defensive catcher in the system, Lobaton was summoned from Portland when Blanco was DL'd with a strained right hamstring. This marks Lobaton's eighth year in the system since signing as a free agent in 2002. The 24-year-old was hitting .250 with three homers and eight RBIs in 38 games with the Beavers prior to his promotion, and had a career .249 average since making his '02 pro debut.
Robert Manuel, RHP, Cincinnati Reds
CALLED UP: Contract purchased from Triple-A Louisville on July 6 when IF Drew Sutton was sent down.
DEBUT: July 9 in a 9-6 loss to Philadelphia. Manuel was called upon in the sixth inning and allowed two hits -- striking out two and walking one -- over 1 1/3 shutout innings.
NOTES: Manuel was summoned hastily when the Reds bullpen went into overdrive during a 22-1 loss to Philadelphia on Monday and needed supplements for the week heading into the All-Star break. He was MLB.com's Double-A Reliever of the Year in 2008, when he posted a 1.40 ERA at Double-A Chattanooga. Together with brief stints at Class A Advanced Sarasota and Louisville, he combined for a 1.25 ERA with 103 strikeouts vs. 18 walks over 86 2/3 innings. For the Bats, he was 3-3 with a 2.51 ERA and eight saves, and he had limited International League hitters to a .209 average. Originally signed by the Mets as a nondrafted free agent out of Sam Houston State, he was acquired via trade in 2006 in a deal for veteran pitcher Dave Williams.
Lisa Winston is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.