In a nationally-televised Sunday night battle with St. Louis on June 9, 2013 at Great American Ball Park, Curtis Partch entered the game for the Reds in the 10th inning, becoming the 60th former Dayton Dragons player to play in the Major Leagues.
Partch, a tall, hard-throwing right-handed pitcher, was utilized as a reliever with the Reds after serving mostly as a starter for the Dragons. He spent the entire 2008 season and most of 2009 in Dayton and still ranks third in Dragons history in career innings pitched.
Partch was originally signed by the Reds as a 26th round draft pick in 2007 out of Merced College, a community college in his hometown of Merced, California. Merced College's most notable baseball alumnus, at least to fans in the Miami Valley, is the late Brad "the Animal" Lesley, the colorful reliever who pitched in 49 games for the Reds from 1982-'84. Lesley is best remembered for his aggressive mound antics reminiscent of fellow reliever Al Hraboski, "the Mad Hungarian."
Partch made his Dragons debut as the starting pitcher in the team's 2008 home opener, April 7. He faced Fort Wayne in a 3-2 Dragons win highlighted by a tie-breaking, RBI single in the bottom of the eighth inning by Dayton outfielder Denis Phipps. Partch enjoyed mixed success for the Dragons that season, flashing signs of future success. Following the season, he earned the Reds "Best Pitcher" award in the Fall Instructional League. He returned to Dayton again in 2009 and built on his experience as his fastball velocity topped out in the mid-90s. Pitching coach Tony Fossas felt Partch had a great "pitcher's body," at 6-foot-5 and little more than 200 lbs., and Fossas felt that as Partch learned to fine tune his delivery, the velocity of his pitches would jump significantly.
Partch posted a winning record for the Dragons in 2009, going 8-7. His best starts came in July, with back-to-back six-inning efforts without allowing a run. The second start of the two came in a win over a Quad Cities club that featured current Cardinals all-star Matt Carpenter on July 15. Partch was promoted to Sarasota for the final month of the season.
Partch continued to climb the Reds organizational ladder and in 2012, he made the move to the bullpen, averaging about a strikeout per inning. Following the 2012 season, he pitched in the prestigious Arizona Fall League and along with Billy Hamilton, was selected to play in the AFL's Rising Stars Game. Shortly thereafter, the Reds added him to their 40-man roster.
Partch took to the bullpen well in 2013 with Triple-A Louisville, with a high-energy approach and a fastball that was now reaching 97 mph, making him one of the hardest throwers in the Reds organization. He was called up to the Reds on June 8, 2013.
Partch's first outing in the Major Leagues did not go as he would have hoped as he surrendered a grand slam home run to Matt Holiday. But he rebounded well and on June 13, he found himself back in another extra inning game, this time against the Cubs. Partch fired four straight shutout innings at Wrigley, allowing just one hit, in a game that eventually surpassed the five hour mark.
Partch allowed no runs in seven of his 14 relief appearances for the Reds in 2013, and he gave up only one run in four others. But two bad outings in August drove his ERA from a respectable 3.71 to 6.17. Still, Partch's rookie season provided optimism. His progress, though bumpy at times, resembled many seasons of Partch's Minor League career, as he kept improving despite occasional back slides.
As a 26th round draft pick, Partch has already beaten the odds. Only one other pitcher from that round in 2007 has reached the big leagues (San Diego's Tommy Layne). Six players signed by the Reds from the 2007 draft have seen Major League time, but four of the six were selected within the first three rounds (Devin Mesoraco, Todd Frazier, Zack Cozart, Neftali Soto). Partch and Reds 2007 21st round pick Jeremy Horst have surpassed original expectations to see time in the Majors.
Partch remains on the Reds 40-man roster and will report to spring training next month, hoping for another Major League opportunity. He was the 60th Dragons player to reach the big leagues.
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