Sunday Notes: The Decision Is In, Hoby Milner Holds a Unique Record
Hoby Milner was credited with a win earlier this month. For the vast majority of pitchers in their sixth big-league season, that wouldn’t be particularly notable. It was for Milner. The 31-year-old Milwaukee Brewers reliever was pitching in his 96th career game, and it was the first time he’d been awarded a W. Moreover, it was the first time Milner had been awarded a decision.
That’s a record. No pitcher in MLB history had ever made that many appearances to start a career without getting either a win or loss. And it isn’t even close. Michael Tonkin went his first 62 before getting a decision — he also got a win — with the Minnesota Twins in 2016.
Milner had an inkling that he might be a record-holder well before he became the pitcher of record in Milwaukee’s 5-4 win over the Baltimore Orioles on April 12.
“I knew around 60-something that it was kind of a lot,” Milner told me at Pittsburgh’s PNC Park earlier this week. “It was a big enough number that I did some research on my own and saw that some guy had around 60 to begin his career. I don’t remember what the website was, but it didn’t necessarily seem like it was 100% legit.”
It turns out that it was. A member of the Brewers’ media relations staff confirmed it after Milner’s remarkable streak came to an end.
He’s been around the block a few times. Selected in the seventh round of the 2012 draft out of the University of Texas by Philadelphia, the southpaw debuted with the Phillies five years later, and he’s since toed the rubber for the Tampa Bay Rays, the Los Angeles Angels, and a trio of Triple-A teams. He inked a free agent deal with Milwaukee in December 2020.
Milner downplayed his no-decision streak when asked about it, although he did admit it that was “kind of cool.” A caveat followed that admission.
“It’s not something you sit around thinking about,” said Milner. “It’s better than not having a record, but it’s also not a record that anyone is going to strive to get.”
An erstwhile lefty reliever holds a similar record. From September 2006 to August 2008, Trever Miller went 121 games without a decision while pitching for the Houston Astros and the Tampa Bay Rays. Unlike Milner, Miller had his streak mid-career, having already logged 26 career decisions.
Milner knew that he was in line for that elusive first win after an Andrew McCutchen RBI single gave Milwaukee a seventh-inning lead. The Dallas native had gotten the final out of the sixth, retiring the only batter he faced, Jorge Mateo, with a pair of Orioles on base.
I asked McCutchen for his perspective on what is now Milner’s claim to fame.
“The unique thing about the game of baseball is that you get these individual feats,” said the veteran outfielder. “And it takes takes a lot of things for that to happen. In Milner’s case, it just goes to show that sometimes it can be a long time before it happens. But it was nice to be able to contribute, and be a part of him getting his first win.”
The final two innings had been stressful. The Orioles loaded the bases with none out in the eighth, only to have Devin Williams proceed to strike out the side. In the ninth, Josh Hader gave up a leadoff double to Cedric Mullins.
“Each time, it was like, ‘Oh, crap, they’re going to score,’” recalled Milner. “Fortunately, they didn’t. It was destiny, I guess.”
Destiny — this time in less newsworthy fashion — happened again this past Thursday. Milner made his 100th career appearance, pitched a one-two-three eighth inning, and was credited with the win when the Brewers rallied to beat the Pirates. The biggest difference between win No. 1 and win No. 2?
“I’m not covered in beer right now,” Milner explained after the game. “First hit, first homer, first whatever — in my case, first win — that’s what happens. Today it was just, ‘Congrats on the win.’”
RANDOM HITTER-PITCHER MATCHUPS
Willie Mays went 10 for 14 against George Brunet.
Willie Mays Aikens went 6 for 8 against Mike Proly.
Eddie Mayo went 6 for 9 against Orville Jorgens.
Jackie Mayo went 4 for 9 against Ewell Blackwell.
Mayo Smith went 3 for 6 against Tex Shirley.
Ryan Borucki has seen his season get off to a bumpy start. The 28-year-old Toronto Blue Jays southpaw began the year on the injured list due to a hamstring injury, and he’s currently sidelined with a blister on his pitching hand. In between his stints on the shelf, he made just a pair of relief appearances. Both were scoreless, with Borucki featuring a cutter as his primary breaking pitch.
Or is it a slider? I asked the lefty that question during spring training.
“I call it a cutter, to help make sure it doesn’t get too big, but I think it’s a mixture of both,” Borucki told me. “I never really had a breaking ball as a starter — I relied on changeup a lot — but once I figured out my breaking ball, I feel that fastball/slider is more suited for me out of the bullpen. I’ll just sprinkle the changeup in here and there.”
Borucki went on to say his fastball has a lot of horizontal run, and that “the cutter complements it well.” With the pitches moving in opposite directions, he “can X a lot, as the tunnel goes both ways.”
The interchangeableness of definitions befits Borucki’s approach when delivering the pitch.
“I kind of just throw it to a spot, and whatever it does, it does,” explained Borucki. “It’s got some horizontal, and some of them have depth, but really, I kind of just grip it and rip it.”
That’s when he’s healthy. Borucki was placed on the 10-day injured list on Wednesday.
Who holds the Chicago Cubs franchise record for saves?
The answer can be found below.
Cincinnati Reds official scorer Ron Roth scored his 1,000th game on Tuesday. Roth has been an MLB official scorer for 44 years. (per Reds beat writer Bobby Nightengale.)
Luke Allen, who played briefly for the Los Angeles Dodgers in 2002, and for the Colorado Rockies in 2003, died earlier this week at age 43. An outfielder, Allen doubled off of Kent Mercker for his only career hit.
Registration is open for SABR’s annual Jerry Malloy Negro League Conference, which will be held on June 2-4, 2022, in Birmingham, Alabama. All baseball fans are welcome to attend. Information can be found here.
Jimmie Sherfy has retired. A veteran of four big-league seasons, the 30-year-old righty reliever had been pitching with the Atlantic League’s Gastonia Honey Hunters (per the Atlantic League’s transactions page).
Patrick Kivlehan has reportedly signed with NPB’s Yakult Swallows. The 32-year-old outfielder appeared in three Triple-A games last month before being released by the Chicago White Sox. Kivlehan has played parts of four big-league seasons, seeing action with the Arizona Diamondbacks, Cincinnati Reds, and San Diego Padres.
The answer to the quiz is Lee Smith, who was credited with 180 of his 478 career saves while pitching for the Cubs. Bruce Sutter, who was credited with 133 of his 400 career saves while pitching for the Cubs, ranks second in franchise history.
Koudai Senga is one of the best pitchers in Japan. The 29-year-old Fukuoka Softbank Hawks right-hander has a 2.44 ERA over 10-plus NPB seasons, and this year he’s off to a 3-0, 0.80 start, with just 24 hits allowed in 45 innings. On Friday, I asked Nick Martinez what his former Fukuoka teammate brings to the table.
“He’s really good,” said Martinez, who is back stateside with the San Diego Padres after four seasons in Japan. “Tremendous work ethic. Great teammate. And he’s got some explosive stuff. He gets his fastball up to 100 mph, and he has a devastating split that hitters just can’t seem to lay off. The arm action is the same. He also commands really well.”
Martinez went on to describe Senga as “a horse,” saying that the prospective MLB hurler stands close to 6-foot-3 and has “really strong legs.” In his opinion, Senga’s transition to baseball in the states would be relatively easy.
MLBNetwork’s Jon Paul Morosi recently wrote that Senga is the most likely big-name Japanese pitcher to come to MLB next season, adding that he’s accrued sufficient service time in NPB to where he wouldn’t have to go through the posting system.
Martinez agrees with Morosi.
“I expect to see him in the big leagues pretty soon,” said Martinez, who won nine of 13 decisions and logged a 1.60 ERA with Senga’s current club last year. “I can’t speak for him, but I believe that if he wants that opportunity, it will be there for him.”
Jacob Waguespack threw five scoreless innings in his NPB debut for the Orix Buffaloes on Friday. The 28-year-old right-hander appeared in 27 games for the Toronto Blue Jays in 2019-2020. He went 7-2, 2.86 last season in Triple-A.
Nippon Ham Fighters left-hander Haruka Nemoto has made two appearances and allowed one run over four-and-two-thirds innings. One of the youngest players in NPB, Nemoto turned 19 at the end of March.
Cristopher Crisostomo is 4-0 with a 2.10 ERA in five starts comprising 30 innings for the Yomiuri Giants. The 28-year-old left-hander from La Romana, Dominican Republic is in his fifth NPB season after pitching in the Tampa Bay Rays system from 2012-2015.
Charlie Barnes is 5-0 with a 0.65 ERA in six starts comprising 41-and-a-third innings for the KBO’s Lotte Giants. The 26-year-old left-hander pitched in nine games for the Minnesota Twins last year and went 0-3, 5.92 over 38 innings.
Iván Nova is 2-1 with a 6.43 ERA in five starts comprising 28 innings with the KBO’s SSG Landers. The 35-year-old right-hander last pitched in MLB with the Detroit Tigers in 2020.
Thomas Harding was a guest on Friday’s episode of FanGraphs Audio, and one of the topics addressed by the longtime MLB.com Colorado Rockies beat writer was the system’s No. 4 prospect, 20-year-old shortstop Ezequiel Tovar. I told Harding that multiple people I’d talked to on an Arizona Fall League visit spoke glowingly about Tovar.
“I had gone down to instructional ball right before you had gone down, and they thought that he could play in the Major Leagues at shortstop, right now, with his range and his arm,” said Harding. “But what happened in spring training is, he showed up [as] a little bit more physical player than what you saw in the Fall League. And he had an outstanding spring. He went from, ‘Gee, will he get a late-season call-up?’ to a guy that — he’s already playing pretty well at Double-A Hartford — you wonder if the need came up, [would] they pull the trigger and bring him up here a little bit early?
“I go back to the days of Troy Tulowitzki, what they did with him,” continued Harding, who has covered the Rockies since 2000. “He was drafted in 2005, and in 2006 they brought him up in August, rather than September, and said, ‘OK, we want you to have at least two months to get your feet wet in the major leagues, because we want you to be our shortstop.’ Is Tovar that type of player? Because he signed out of Latin America, and he signed so young — and he was a switch-hitter when he signed, and now he’s right-handed hitter — he didn’t have the same hype coming in. But if he continues to do the things he’s done offensively, I would not be surprised to see that happen late in the season.”
Tovar is slashing .302/.397/.571 in 73 plate appearances with the Double-A Yard Goats. He has a 163 wRC+, four home runs, and is 6-for-6 in stolen base attempts.
T.J. White is slashing .302/.388/.535 with two home runs and a 151 wRC+ in 49 plate appearances for the Low-A Fredericksburg Nationals. The 18-year-old outfielder was drafted 143rd overall by Washington in 2020 out of a Roebuck, South Carolina high school.
Jake Fox is slashing .276/.488/.328 in 84 plate appearances with the Low-A Lynchburg Hillcats. Drafted 95th overall by Cleveland last year out of a Lakeland, Florida high school, the 19-year-old infielder has a .481 OBP in 133 PAs since entering pro ball. Fox is No. 41 on our Guardians Top Prospect list.
Brandon Walter has 29 strikeouts and has yet to walk a batter in 23 innings with the Double-A Portland Sea Dogs. The 25-year-old left-hander — No. 10 on our Red Sox Top Prospects list — has allowed 14 hits, and has a 1.17 ERA to go with a 1.38 FIP.
Gordon Graceffo has 30 strikeouts and has walked just one batter in 21-and-two-thirds innings for the High-A Peoria Chiefs. The 22-year-old right-hander — a fifth-round pick by the St. Louis Cardinals out of Villanova University last summer — has allowed 10 hits and has a 0.83 ERA to go with a 1.62 FIP.
Joe Boyle has allowed one hit over 13 scoreless innings with the High-A Dayton Dragons. Signed as a non-drafted free agent by the Cincinnati Reds in 2002, the 22-year-old right-hander out of the University of Notre Dame has 22 strikeouts and has issued 10 walks.
J.J. Niekro has allowed six hits and one run in 14-and-two-thirds innings for the Low-A Augusta GreenJackets. A conventional pitcher who was signed as a non-drafted free agent by the Atlanta Braves last summer, the 24-year-old right-hander out of Florida Southern College is the son of former big-league pitcher Joe Niekro.
Brent Suter has an illustrated children’s book coming out. Based on his now three-and-a-half-year-old son, pacifiers, and the family dog, “The Binky Bandit” is scheduled to be released on June 6. I asked the Milwaukee Brewers left-hander for the story behind the story.
“I was reading books to my son when he was younger, and some of them were kind of head-scratchers,” explained Suter, who graduated from Harvard University with a degree in environmental science and public policy “I thought I could get more of a personal connection with him, and at the same time, my dog was demolishing like five or six of his binkies a day. All of a sudden, he just stopped doing it. I decided to write a book about [the dog’s] mindset and the environmental damage — the plastic pollution— the binky destruction was doing. He turns away from that Binky Bandit alter ego and sacrifices for the common good.”
Originally written as a poem, Suter’s tale of Wally the Doodle’s canine-redemption caught the attention of a publisher who saw it mentioned in an article. A few short years later, “The Binky Bandit” will be released as an illustrated children’s book. It can be ordered here.
LINKS YOU’LL LIKE
At The Daily Hive, Ty Jadah presented reasons why MLB should move the Oakland A’s to Vancouver, and the Tampa Bay Rays to Montreal.
Covering the Corner’s Chris D. Davies wrote about Aaron Civale, Triston McKenzie and the beauty of simplification.
MLB.com’s Paul Casella wrote about how women official scorers are breaking another barrier.
Sports Illustrated’s Emma Bacciellieri wrote about how shifts are increasing in the final season before MLB begins restricting them.
After years of cutting scouts, the Houston Astros have pivoted and are now hiring them. Kyle Glaser has the story at Baseball America.
RANDOM FACTS AND STATS
Two pitchers in modern-day MLB history (since 1901) have a double-digit ERA and more than one win. Matt Skrmetta, who pitched for the Expos and Pirates in 2000, went 2-2 with an 11.66 ERA. Brooks Kriske, who is currently pitching in Japan, has gone 2-1 with a 14.40 ERA.
The first four pitchers taken in the 2006 draft — Luke Hochevar, Greg Reynolds, Brad Lincoln, Brandon Morrow — combined for 112 MLB wins. The next four pitchers taken in the 2006 draft — Andrew Miller, Clayton Kershaw, Tim Lincecum, Max Scherzer — have combined for 546 MLB wins.
Jacob deGrom has started 198 MLB games and has a record of 77-53.
Rich Hill has started 199 MLB games and has a record of 74-53.
Joey Votto has a career .300 batting average with a .415 OBP.
Juan Soto has a career .299 batting average with a .431 OBP.
Pete Rose had 3,215 singles and 160 home runs.
Joey Gallo has 175 singles and 160 home runs.
Rick Wilkins played parts of 11 big-league seasons and batted .244 with 81 home runs. In 1980, he batted .303 with 30 home runs for the Chicago Cubs.
Per baseball historian Stew Thornley — via the team’s press notes — the Minnesota Twins hosted 12 games prior to 11 a.m. from 1961-1981. The morning games were held on Saturdays when the University of Minnesota football team played home games in the early afternoon.
On today’s date in 1968, the St. Louis Cardinals scored two runs in the top of the 12th inning to beat the Houston Astros 3-1. Bob Gibson went the distance for the win, one of three times that year he went at least 10 innings and earned a W.
Players born on today’s date include Joe Hietpas, whose career comprised one defensive inning behind the plate for the New York Mets in 2004. The Appleton, Wisconsin native converted from a catcher to a knuckleball pitcher two years later, but never returned to the big leagues.
Also born on today’s date was Heinie Meine, who pitched for the St. Louis Browns in 1922, and for the Pittsburgh Pirates from 1929-1934. Nicknamed “The Count of Luxemburg,” Meine had his best season in 1931 when he went 19-13 with a 2.98 ERA while tossing an NL-high 284 innings.