|© MLB Advanced Media, L.P. All rights reserved.|
FSL notes: Etheridge's heart in game06/29/2011 10:00 AM ET
By Guy Curtright / Special to MLB.com
Wes Etheridge felt he was being called to save souls. Now he realizes, at least for the moment, that his true calling is saving games.
After stepping away for a year-and-a-half while studying to become a pastor, Etheridge is back on the diamond and thriving in the Toronto organization at the advanced age of 26.
"Wes is truly getting a second chance at baseball and he's definitely making the most of it," said Dunedin pitching coach Darold Knowles.
Etheridge is a perfect 28-for-28 in save opportunities, making him the Minor Leagues saves leader, and has a 1.40 ERA in 37 appearances. The right-hander has struck out 34 while walking just six in 38 2/3 innings.
"When I was playing baseball before, my heart wasn't in it," said Etheridge, who got the save in this year's FSL All-Star Game. "I wanted to be a pastor. Now I feel this is where I should be. My mind is clear, and I'm just happy to be pitching again."
Etheridge was a 12th-round pick by Milwaukee in 2007 after pitching UC Irvine to the College World Series. But the California native was out of the game barely a year later.
"I wasn't fair to the Brewers," Etheridge said. "I didn't give them 100 percent. They basically wasted a Draft choice on me."
He did eventually go to Spring Training with Milwaukee last year, but the Brewers released him just before the start of the season.
Etheridge got another chance at a comeback with Toronto this spring after going 10-0 with Maui in the now-defunct Golden League and pitching well in the Venezuelan Winter League. The Blue Jays liked what they saw, envisioning a potential closer.
He has a full assortment of pitches, but relies mostly on a sinking fastball that drops off the table just as it enters the hitting zone.
"When he does give up a hit, it's usually just a ground ball through the infield," Knowles said. "Batters can't square him up."
So what happened to bring Etheridge back to the game he had abandoned? It was a random call from an old friend that put everything in motion.
"I know it sounds strange, but [my friend] said he was washing his car and God told him he didn't need me to be a pastor," Etheridge said. "I wasn't progressing in my ministry like I'd hoped, so I was already praying about it a lot.
"I talked to my mom and it really surprised me when she also said I should go back to baseball. She's never been a fan, so I really thought it was what I was meant to do."
The Blue Jays are giving Etheridge a second chance at possibly reaching the Majors. He's just happy to be back on the mound.
"I never thought I'd play baseball again," Etheridge said. "Whatever you do, your heart has to be in it. My heart wasn't in baseball then.
"It felt like a weight had been lifted off my shoulders when I came back. For the first time in my life, I truly knew what I should be doing. I didn't know if I'd be successful, but I knew that I was supposed to be playing baseball."
Although he's at an advanced age for the Florida State League, Toronto has so far resisted moving Etheridge to Double-A, and the closer is being patient.
"After the roller-coaster ride of my life, I really can't think about tomorrow or what's next," he said. "I just go with it. I can't plan my life too much because it never ends up like I'd planned anyway."
Well represented: Right-hander Matt Harvey, 8-2 with a 2.37 ERA and 92 strikeouts in the FSL, was promoted to Double-A Binghamton by the New York Mets, but St. Lucie will still have a representative in the All-Star Futures Game. Third baseman Jefry Marte was picked for the World team, joining Clearwater's Jarred Cosart and Sebastian Valle and Charlotte's Hak-Ju Lee as FSL representatives in Phoenix on July 10.
Major moves: St. Lucie outfielder Juan Lagares took over the lead in the league batting race at .350, thanks to a 10-game hitting streak in which he was 21-for-44. St. Lucie needed Lagares to stay hot after losing Matt Den Dekker to Binghamton following a promotion. Meanwhile, South Division rival Charlotte lost league RBI leader Greg Sexton when the third baseman was moved up to Montgomery after going 8-for-11 in his final three games with the Stone Crabs.
Heating up: Clearwater first baseman Jonathan Singleton began heating up after struggling much of the first half. He was 11-for-16 over a four-game stretch and had three homers and two doubles during the spree, which included a six-RBI game. Singleton, MLB.com's No. 30 prospect entering the season, had only three homers in the first half.