The Press Newspaper
Who knows if Justin Thomas’ pitching line in the Sacramento River Cats’ 11-7 loss to the Salt Lake Bees last Wednesday will help push him back into the major leagues this season.
Thomas, a 2002 Clay grad, is a 6-foot-3, 220-pound left-hander who is pitching for his ninth minor league team. If he gets called up to the pitch this season for the Oakland Athletics, the River Cats’ major league affiliate, he will have pitched for five major league teams. That list includes Pittsburgh, Seattle, Boston and the New York Yankees.
On this particular Wednesday night, Thomas throws five innings and gives up three runs (all earned) on six hits, with three walks and three strikeouts. He also allows a home run as Sacramento falls to 40-33 but still leads the Pacific Coast League’s Southern Division.
Four days earlier, Thomas went seven innings against Salt Lake and allowed just one run.
“I go out every time and try to throw 6-7 innings and try to give my team a chance to win,” Thomas said prior to his last start against Salt Lake. “I try to give up three or less runs. I haven’t had a lot of run support in my last few starts, but that comes and goes. I hope we score some runs my next few starts and I can keep the other team at bay and I can get a couple wins under my belt.”
In 15 starts with Sacramento, Thomas had a 3-5 record with a 4.23 ERA in 78.2 innings. He had allowed 87 hits and 31 walks, and struck out 60. Opponents were hitting .276 against him.
Thomas was a starting pitcher when his professional career began, but he was moved to the bullpen in 2008 by the Seattle Mariners. Last season he made the opening-day roster with the Red Sox but was sent to Boston’s Triple-A club, Pawtucket, and became a free agent after a 72-hour waiver period. He was claimed off waivers by the Yankees and spent the rest of the 2012 season with Scranton/Wilkes-Barre as a spot-starter there before being called up to the Yankees in September.
Thomas spent the last month of the season in the Yankees’ bullpen and then pitched in Venezuela for about a month as a reliever, to get an early start on spring training. He was acquired by the Athletics over the winter and built himself up to be a starter, which turned out to be in Sacramento this spring.
Thomas said he doesn’t mind being called on as a starter or as a reliever.
“I enjoy it the same, so it doesn’t really matter,” he said. “I haven’t (started) in a while and it took a while to get my routine down. The last four weeks, I’ve been able to get into a groove and stick with the same routine, so that’s good. I’ve done them both now and I have a grasp on how to do both. I don’t have preference.”
At this point in his career, the 29-year-old Thomas said it is more beneficial to be a starter if he wants to pitch again at the major league level.
“You can always be called up to the majors and put in the bullpen,” he said. “When you’re a starter, you can sometimes get called up to start or be put in the bullpen. It gives you more opportunity to get called up into any role. You can be a starter, a short (relief) guy and a long guy. It just opens up some more opportunities.”
Now that he is starting, Thomas said he has mixed in throwing more curveballs to accompany his fastball, slider and change-up. Every team he’s played for, of course, has wanted Thomas to be able to do different things in different situations. Moving from team to team, city to city, is just part of the deal, he said.
“That’s kind of the way it goes,” Thomas said. “You take your chances where you can get them. I picked to sign here because they were going to give me an opportunity to be a starter. I wasn’t going to sign back with the Yankees. The Rockies, Padres, Athletics, Orioles and Marlins were teams I was going to sign with this offseason, but I decided to sign with the A’s so I could be in the rotation.”
Thomas added that he doesn’t have a time frame for when he’d like to get called up to the River Cats’ parent club.
“I just kind of play it by ear,” he said. “I’ll wait and see. You have to see which teams suffer some injuries, or I could always be traded or hook on with another team. You just have to go out there when it’s your time to pitch, because other teams might be watching. You have to go out and perform, no matter who you’re pitching for.”
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