Brad Bergesen and the Curse of Billy Butler

July 19, 2012 | Mark Brown

If you blinked earlier this week, you missed the brief return of Brad Bergesen to the Baltimore Orioles. He was called up for Tuesday’s game as long relief insurance in case Zach Britton had a short outing, but did not find his way into the game even though Britton only made it four innings. Wednesday, he was designated for assignment to make room for Tommy Hunter – ouch.

In fact, it was the second time the Orioles have DFA’d Bergesen this year; for the first, he was cast aside to make room for the short tenure of Bill Hall. The players who get yo-yo’d back and forth like this, tossed from the roster, called up for a day and tossed again, are the ones the teams don’t care about. That’s fair, in Bergesen’s case. When we saw him last year at the big league level he threw over 100 innings and had a 5.70 ERA.

He probably has no part of the team’s future any more, but whenever I think of Bergesen, I can’t help but remember the unexpected delight from his debut season. Maybe it’s not rational. In fact, it’s probably not rational. Part of the fun of being a fan is going wild sometimes. You have to be careful not to get too crazy about it – otherwise you end up like Yankees fans trying to say that Derek Jeter is a great defensive shortstop. You get your moments, though, and mine is what Bergesen might have been if it wasn’t for the scourge of a Billy Butler line drive.

It’s a little hard to remember those heady days now. The spring of 2009 was yet another year in recent memory where the future looked brighter than the present. This was the time when then-manager Dave Trembley was uttering quotes like “The cavalry is coming” – referring to promising pitching prospects like Chris Tillman, Jake Arrieta and Brian Matusz. We were excited about those guys once, and early in 2009 we had no reason not to be.

Bergesen was like the cherry on top. Here were all these prospects coming along, but they weren’t quite ready yet, so when a hole in the rotation opened up in April, up came Brad Bergesen. Who? He was not on any prospect lists. I had never heard of him. You had probably never heard of him. But he was a groundball pitcher who’d had some decent results in AA the year previous – 24 games, a 3.22 ERA – so when a space opened, it was his turn. Heck, why not? Everyone else the O’s were throwing out in ’09 was not doing so great.

Over his first seven starts, you might say he looked like he fit in perfectly with the 2009 rotation, which isn’t a compliment. A month into his big league career, he had a 5.49 ERA. Then… well, I still don’t know what happened. His next eleven starts saw his ERA drop to 3.43. He went at least six innings in every one of those starts and he went seven or more innings in six starts, with eight innings in four starts and one complete game. That’ll play, and it did play.