Roenicke aims to use hitting knowledge
Center fielder turned pitcher was acquired in July 31 deal
TORONTO -- Blue Jays reliever Josh Roenicke hopes he has an advantage over some pitchers in this age of the designated hitter. He was an outfielder in college, a center fielder for UCLA, and he still remembers how difficult it can be to hit a baseball.
There are some old-timers who feel that if more pitchers also had to hit they would appreciate how difficult it is and as a result be more aggressive with their pitches.
"That's what I would say," said Roenicke. "When I'm struggling and walk a guy I say , 'Ridiculous,' because hitting is the hardest thing to do in all sports.
"Throw the ball over the plate and even if they do hit it hard, you have guys behind you to field it. If you throw strikes and get ahead, it's really tough on the hitter.
"As a hitter, I knew that hard fastballs in were really tough pitches to hit. I think I actually know more about hitting now that I've been pitching. I've seen both ends of it. It goes hand in hand. Being a hitter has helped a lot."
So has being part of a baseball family. His father, Gary, and his uncle, Ron, were Major League outfielders. An older brother, Jarett, was a Minor League player and a younger brother, Jason, is a pitcher in the Blue Jays' Minor League system.
Roenicke is a versatile athlete, a wide receiver for UCLA for two years before concentrating on baseball.
Pitching is his game now, but it wasn't always. He did not pitch much until his senior year at UCLA when he threw 13 innings.
The Cincinnati Reds liked what they saw in his pitching arm and selected him in the 10th round of the 2006 First-Year Player Draft. "For the little amount that I threw the ball, it came out of my hand really well," he said.
Roenicke had 14 strikeouts in 15 1/3 innings in two seasons for UCLA. The right-hander from Nevada City, Calif., made 16 of his 19 pitching appearances as a senior, going 2-3 with a 3.46 ERA in 13 innings. As a hitter, he had a .262 batting average with 14 doubles, 37 runs scored and 45 RBIs in 123 games, including 81 starts.
"I was starting in center field and I'd come in from center field sometimes [to pitch]," he said. "I loved playing center field, hitting was always fun. I was confident that once I was made strictly a pitcher and concentrated on just one aspect of the game, I'd be pretty successful in that. I just took it from there."
The Blue Jays acquired Roenicke from the Reds July 31 at the non-waiver Trade Deadline, along Minor League pitcher Zach Stewart and third baseman Edwin Encarnacion for third baseman Scott Rolen.
Because he played mostly outfield in college, the hope is that he has had less wear and tear on his arm and that could help his longevity.
"I'm 27 now," he said. "But they say 'Your arm is like 20 or 22 so you have a young arm,' and hopefully that'll be a good thing."
He has never been a starter as a pitcher but he has served as a closer in the Minors and hopes that could be in his future in Toronto.
"In the Minor Leagues, I was a closer and that's obviously what most everybody wants in the bullpen," he said. "I'd love to have that job but it's up to them. That's the main role I'd like to have."
At Triple-A Louisville this season, Roenicke was 1-0 with a 2.57 ERA and 12 saves. With Cincinnati, he was 0-0 with a 2.70 ERA, in 11 games.
Roenicke has a good fastball with life and as a reliever that is his main pitch.
"I throw mostly fastballs," he said. "I've been throwing my sinker, the two-seamer, a lot lately and it's been moving down in the zone and it's been effective. And this year I've been throwing my slider more and I feel I can throw that pitch for a strike whenever I want. That's been helpful for me."
Relievers usually only need a small repertoire, he said, "I still throw four pitches, both fastballs, changeup, slider and curveball. It's hard to bag one of them, I like them all. I'll stick with them and it'll depend on when I need them."
Larry Millson is a contributor to MLB.com This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.