I’LL SHUT UP ABOUT HIM AFTER THIS, I PROMISE
So here is what I WOULD have written about RJ Swindle’s debut if it was going to be the lead to this week’s Movin’ On Up. Think of it as an exclusive bonus feature:
It made for one hell of a birthday present.
In a week that saw the big league debuts of top prospects such as Tampa Bay shortstop Reid Brignac and Florida hurler Chris Volstad, the most intriguing debut of the week definitely belonged to a 25-year-old southpaw who probably couldn’t break a pane of glass with his best pitch.
Canadian-born Philadelphia Phillies southpaw R.J. Swindle, who a few days earlier had been promoted and then sent back down without getting into a game, was recalled once again on July 7, his 25th birthday, and made his big league debut that night in a 10-9 loss to the New York Mets.
The third of four pitchers in that game, he saw mixed but intriguing results. With his team trailing 8-1 as he took the mound to start the sixth, he promptly gave up a homer to the first batter he faced, David Wright, on a hanging curveball. He also allowed a second run in the inning and, three more hits, including an RBI single by opposing pitcher Pedro Martinez, which might have added to the pain.
However, Swindle, whose repertoire consists of five pitches which range from offspeed to “offer”-speed, highlighted by a 55-MPH curveball and all sorts of arm angles, followed that inauspicious beginning up with a pair of scoreless innings to keep his team in the game as they almost rallied before finally falling by a lone run.
The final linescore was three innings, two runs, four hits, one walk and three strikeouts. All four hits came in that first frame.
Swindle was initially purchased from Triple-A Lehigh Valley simply to fill a roster spot for a day on July 1 as the club awaited the next night’s starter, JA Happ. But five days later he was back when reliever Tom Gordon went on the DL.
A cursory look at his career path would be baffling before learning that his fastball is approximately in the low 80s because he has certainly been remarkably effective.
Originally drafted by the Red Sox in the 14th round of 2004 out of Charleston Southern, he posted a 1.94 ERA in 51 innings at short-season Lowell but was released after that season as he recovered from back trouble and signed with the independent Schaumburg club, where he spent all of 2005.
He began ’05 with Schaumburg as well before signing with the Yankees system, where he posted an 0.61 ERA in 44 1/3 innings at Class A Charleston, feeling right at home there in the virtual backyard of his old school. That success earned him another release and return to the indies, where he began 2007 with the Newark Bears of the Atlantic League.
Signed that summer by the Phillies, he actually made it through spring training and posted an 0.54 ERA at Reading before moving up to Lehigh Valley where his ERA was a 1.93, combining to strike out 48 batters in 40 innings while walking six.
Swindle is known to be especially tough on lefties but the situation necessitated him to come in to face a few right-handers first.
Maybe it was rookie nerves that he left that famed curveball hanging enough to be crushed for a homer over the left field wall, but Swindle said later it was just the second time he’d ever given up a home run on that pitch.
Welcome to the big leagues.
But once the lefties came to bat he showed why he was up. He struck out veteran Carlos Delgado for his first big league whiff. And struck Delgado out again two innings later on that speed-limit curve (with a scoreboard that showed the speed of his pitches he immediately became a crowd sensation).
What Swindle’s big league future holds is anyone’s guess. He is also a candidate for the Canadian Olympic team which will travel to Beijing next month.