Huntzinger Keeping Himself Up
TOLEDO, OHIO — Entrusted with a 4-0 lead in the late innings, you validate the faith of your manager by retiring all six men you encounter. A day later, even if only as a technicality, you’re nonetheless handed a demotion. The next afternoon you’re promoted again, and by that evening are back out there getting outs crucial to a come-from-behind victory.
Welcome to the world of Brock Huntzinger, who began this week in Columbus, living the yo-yo existence of a minor league reliever, bouncing up, down and up again between Double-A and Triple-A.
Huntzinger, who made his 2013 debut with the Pawtucket Red Sox last weekend at home, accompanied his teammates on this eight-day trip into Ohio. On Monday, he carried the ball across the finish line, completing a shutout started by Rubby De La Rosa. On Tuesday, he was transferred — on paper, if not in person — to Portland. By Wednesday Huntzinger was back on the PawSox roster, actively helping them rally from a 4-0 deficit to a 6-5, 10-inning triumph.
They were three days in June that, more or less, typify the ride he’s been on since last August; ascending and descending on a roller coaster winding from Portland to Pawtucket.
In 2012, after moving from the SeaDogs’ starting rotation to their bullpen, Huntzinger was elevated in time to register two regular-season appearances and one Governor’s Cup playoff outing for the PawSox. He reported to spring training, pitched in two Grapefruit League games for Boston and spent considerable time on the Triple-A mound.
But at the close of camp, Huntzinger headed further north than Rhode Island, returning to Maine as Portland’s closer. In 25 games, he went 3-0 with a 2.32 ERA and converted 13-of-14 save opportunities. Word arrived of a promotion to Pawtucket; but with it a caveat from manager Kevin Boles, who cautioned Huntzinger that his stay in Triple-A might be short-lived.
Technically, it was. Two appearances, three scoreless innings and for 24 hours — if that — a return to Double-A. Back with Pawtucket, Huntzinger is where he believes he belongs.
“I’m pretty confident that I can go out and pitch at any level,” says Huntzinger, who also competed in the Arizona Fall League each of the last two years. “Last year I was kind of nervous getting to Triple-A (and) making my first outing. It’s like, ‘Oh man, it’s a new level, I haven’t been here before.’ But coming in this year I know I’m capable of pitching at this level and I feel like I belong here.
“Having those experiences last year and pitching in the fall definitely made (me) not walk on egg shells, trying to be perfect, because a good fastball is a good fastball, a good slider is a good slider, a good change-up is a good change-up. I’m just trying to stay within myself and do what I do.”
To stay within himself Huntzinger has to be honest with himself. Just as he was in adopting and truly accepting his new role as a reliever in 2012.
“It shed a whole new light on my career. It was probably the best thing that I’ve done, to this point,” Huntzinger says of his conversion on the mound. “As a starter, I’d have an inning or two that was really good. Then I’d go out and turn the lineup over and they’d play wall ball. So you’ve got to wake up and look at yourself in the mirror and say, ‘What am I doing here? This is my livelihood, this is my career, I need to make a change.’
“And so I talked to the pitching coach and decided to make the transition to the bullpen. You go out there and just let it (go) for 40-50 pitches and that’s the job, then you’re done. I think it’s been the best thing that ever happened to me. It’s kind of given me new life, I feel like. It’s kind of put me back on the map. Some guys would see it as a demotion. It is what it is. There’s guys in the big leagues, that’s their job. It’s all worth it. I’m just trying to keep putting together strong outings and stay consistent.”