Travelin' Man: Hale's 2018 journey

Pitcher's 2018 route started in PA and ended in South Korea

By DJ Eberle / Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders | May 14, 2019 10:39 AM

When David Hale elected free agency after he was designated for assignment for the second time by the New York Yankees last July, the starting pitcher signed a contract with the Hanwha Eagles of the Korean Baseball Organization League.

 

With only a couple months of the MLB season left, the Eagles were offering a $500,000 salary to pitch for them for the rest of the KBO League season. Ultimately, it was an offer Hale couldn't turn down.

Pitching for the Eagles presented Hale with an opportunity to pitch for good money, which was even more important with a newborn in the fold now, and in a foreign country. It was something he couldn't pass up and a decision the 31-year-old will cherish for a lifetime.

 

"It was very interesting," Hale said. "I made a list of just stuff on the field. I had like 25 little things that just happened on the field that were different. You go over there, at least you have baseball to fall back on. There were these little things that make it feel different, but it was great. I enjoyed being there. The team was great. Nice people. Everything like that.

 

"I'm getting older and I had to do what's right. I just had a baby. They gave me an offer - not to sound cliché - I couldn't refuse."

 

What was on that list of unique things to happen to Hale while he was on the mound?

 

Well, the KBO League has two rubbers, for one. The pitching coach also takes you out of the game - not the manager - too.

 

"There are two rubbers, which is the first thing I tell people," Hale said. "You have the rubber and then a little dip down and you have another rubber. So, one ever digs holes because you're throwing from off of that during the game.

 

"Thank God I saw someone else get pulled from a game before me or else I would have been staring, like, 'What are you doing?' Just stuff like that."

 

But one of the biggest differences playing in the KBO League compared to the States is the use of what Hale described as "fighting money."

 

When a team wins a game, they choose three MVPs. Each of those MVP awards is given $300.

 

"They put $300 on your chair," Hale said. "It's like a tip. A little bonus."

 

Despite playing overseas and in a clubhouse where the national language wasn't English, Hale didn't have too much trouble adapting.

 

The team had a translator and was allowed to have three foreign players on the roster. Luckily for Hale, the other two foreign players were both American, making things easier.

 

"You still got that banter within the clubhouse and it's that good friendly stuff," Hale said. "So, you have that regardless of language."

 

After a successful stint with the Eagles, securing a 3-4 record and 4.34 ERA in 12 starts, the opportunity presented itself for Hale to rejoin the Yankees organization.

 

Like the opportunity to join the Eagles was something he couldn't refuse, so was rejoining the Yankees.

 

"The feel here, the feel of being on a team that only cares about winning is really cool," Hale said. "They treated me great. I know it didn't seem that way up and down, but that's just the position I'm in and I appreciated that. I really liked the coaches, the players. It's a good clubhouse feel - comfort. I haven't felt comfortable and confident in three years and it's nice to come back to the same team. I haven't done that since 2016."

 

Signing guys like Hale was one of the Yankees' objectives this offseason.

 

Hale, and veteran pitchers like Drew Hutchinson, present the Yankees with options if they need non-40-man roster help at some point in the season.

 

"It's great to have a guy that's been there, and you can bring him up and hopefully get him back and all of those things," Yankees senior director of player development Kevin Reese said. "It's nice to have some guys that the major league team has comfort with. There's a lot of times we want to rush prospects because they might have a higher ceiling, but it's nice to have guys where you know they're going to do a good job and you don't have to move somebody before they're ready.

 

"We've done a good job not only developing guys but signing minor league free agents that have an impact and are able to be there for the big-league team if they need them. We have Hutchinson and Hale, and there are some good quality arms that we have and there's a comfort level within Double-A and Triple-A. We're in a decent spot there."

 

Hale's confidence and comfort have shown in his pitching this season.

 

Hale is 2-0 with a 2.12 ERA in three starts with the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders this season. He hasn't given up more than two runs in any of his starts.

 

"I think overall, I have the best command of all my pitches that I've had, and my goal is to just keep that going," Hale said. "I think it's proven to be effective and it's nice to get the results that I was hoping for.

 

"Having the best feel for all of my pitches at one time. Usually, it's two out of three or three out of four or whatever, but I feel like I'm consistent with them all. It's keeping the hitters off balance."

 

Hale attributes his strong start to two newer aspects of his game.

 

Along with working on keeping his arm in shape during the offseason, he paid special attention to his slider, wanting to improve his third pitch. Hale has also seen an increase in his velocity of late, having his fastball up in the 95-93 mph range at times.

 

Hale jokingly attributed the uptick in velocity to "dad strength."

 

"I needed a third pitch to be a little more consistent," Hale said. "I feel very good. I've been throwing a little harder than normal. I don't know if that's dad strength or what.

 

"My arm feels good. My velo feels good. With my command of the pitches, this is absolutely the best I've felt so early into a season."

 

Hale's hot start to the season has really taken his new manager, Jay Bell, aback.

 

Aside from spring training last season, there hadn't been too much interaction between the two leading up to this season.

 

After watching three starts, Bell couldn't be more pleased with what Hale has brought to the table as the de facto ace of the RailRiders pitching staff.

 

"I've gotten to stand in on some of his sides and gotten to watch those, too," Bell said. "The last movement on his fastball and his slider are really, really effective. Changeup is good, as well. I'm just a big fan. I enjoy watching him pitch. He always seems to be in control of the mound. His mound presence is extraordinary, and I've enjoyed watching him get after it. Nothing seems to phase him out there. He's a guy I'm really impressed with.

 

Hale can also be looked at as a leader on the RailRiders pitching staff.

 

With the recent exit of Gio Gonzalez, Hale is one of the more experienced starting pitchers for Scranton/Wilkes-Barre.

 

"The starters here, they're all great and they know what they're doing, so it's not like I'm doing any leading or anything like that or teaching anything," Hale said. "I think we all hold each other accountable and push each other."

 

This time last year, it was the pitching staff that took a hit and provided Hale with opportunities to help out the Yankees.

 

Thanks to some injuries at the big-league level, Hale made a trio of appearances for the Yankees and even one for the Minnesota Twins in 2018.

 

With the Yankees, Hale secured a 2.61 ERA. However, he was touched up a bit in his one appearance with the Twins. Hale gave up four runs over three innings in his lone outing, which was good for a 12.00 ERA.

 

"The first half of the first have of my season has been interesting, to say the least. It was a fun ride," Hale said after his stint with the Twins last season, which was sandwiched between both trips to the Yankees. "I was talking to my wife about it. If you have the right mindset about it, it can be pretty fun.

 

"I think just being part of pro baseball after a certain number of years, you kind of learn to go with the flow, what it's like to live out of a suitcase and a hotel. The fact that I've done it a while has prepared me for it."

 

But considering, his strong start with the RailRiders this season, Hale's ready if his name is called again.

 

"My goal is to make them feel comfortable when I'm out there on the mound. I just try to be professional with everything I do and be consistent on the mound. Do the little things right. If they need somebody, hopefully I'm in the position to step in. We'll see. It's hard to go through a full season without needing extra pitching. Hopefully, I'll get an opportunity."

 

"It's hard to get that out of my mind. I do my best to not think about it because I know I can't do anything about it. But, yeah, I think the way I've thrown is - I know they have confidence in me, and I know I've thrown pretty well now. If they needed me I'd be ready to do it."

This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.

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