Vogelsong perseveres on winding road to Series
It has been an incredible baseball excursion for San Francisco Giants starting pitcher Ryan Vogelsong.
His career path has been extraordinary. His perseverance has been inspiring. His recent success has been remarkable.
The 6-foot-4, 215-pound right-hander spent three years pitching for Kutztown University in Kutztown, Pa.
In his collegiate tenure, Vogelsong struck out 242 hitters.
As a result of his collegiate success, Vogelsong became the Giants' fifth-round selection in the 1998 First-Year Player Draft.
His lengthy and frustrating route to success was just beginning.
Vogelsong had fairly good results in his first two years as a professional. Initially, he was striking out an average of 11 hitters per nine innings in the lower Minor League levels.
In only his second year as a professional, Vogelsong progressed to Double-A Shreveport in the Texas League, spending part of his second and third seasons there.
He made his Major League debut for San Francisco at age 23. In four games, he threw six innings and didn't give up a run. He allowed four hits, walked two and struck out six of the 24 batters he faced.
In July 2001, Vogelsong was traded with outfielder Armando Rios to the Pittsburgh Pirates for pitcher Jason Schmidt and outfielder John Vander Wal.
The trade proved to be outstanding for San Francisco. Schmidt became a three-time All-Star for the Giants before leaving the game in 2009 following arm injuries.
Vogelsong, on the other hand, scuffled with the Pirates.
After joining Pittsburgh for a brief Major League stint in the 2001 season, Vogelsong pitched only six Major League innings covering two starts. He gave up 10 runs on 10 hits and had an ERA of 12.00.
As it turned out, Vogelsong needed Tommy John surgery, and his career was sidetracked during the recovery.
Vogelsong returned to the big leagues in June 2003 and pitched parts of four seasons with Pittsburgh after his surgery. To put it gently, he was not too successful. He was released by Pittsburgh in October 2006.
Without a Major League contract, Vogelsong went to Japan for three seasons and pitched for the Hanshin Tigers and Orix Buffaloes.
In January 2010, the Phillies signed Vogelsong and sent him to Triple-A Lehigh Valley. He went 2-5 with a 4.91 ERA in 25 games (seven starts), and the Phillies released him in July.
Following his release, the Angels signed Vogelsong and sent him to Triple-A Salt Lake. In eight games, he gave up 47 hits in 36 2/3 innings and had a 4.66 ERA and 1.88 WHIP. He was released during the offseason.
Following that season, after being released twice, Vogelsong played winter ball in Venezuela. It was there that he believes his career was revived. How?
Enter the Giants.
In January 2011, San Francisco signed Vogelsong as a free agent.
Vogelsong pitched in two games at Triple-A Fresno and in 30 games at Major League level last season.
He had a record of 13-7 for the Giants in 2011 and showed the world that he can pitch. Vogelsong had a stellar 2.71 ERA and an outstanding WHIP of 1.25. He was striking out hitters at a rate of seven per nine innings.
Some skeptics thought that season was an outlier. He had never done it before. Some said he would never do it again. They were wrong.
There has not been a baseball metric invented yet that can measure the heart, determination and depth of a player's commitment. Those factors are gleaned by scouting. Those factors are evaluated by observation. Vogelsong showed he's a winner.
Vogelsong followed his All-Star season in 2011 with a dynamic 14-9 record this year in the regular season. He threw 189 2/3 innings, yielding 171 hits. He had an ERA of 3.37 and a WHIP of 1.23. At one point, he threw 16 consecutive quality starts.
Most important, Vogelsong is 2-0 in his three starts this postseason. He has a composite ERA of 1.42 and a WHIP of 0.89 to go along with his confidence.
He has been in total control on the mound in two of the most meaningful games he will likely every pitch.
With his team on the brink of elimination in Game 6 of the National League Championship Series, Vogelsong used a very simple formula to win. He threw strikes, he got ahead of hitters, and he made them swing at his pitches. He hit his spots. He repeated his delivery. He conducted pitching clinics.
Vogelsong used both four-seam and two-seam fastballs to change the eye levels of hitters. He mixed in an occasional curveball and even a changeup. But it was his two very dependable fastballs that carried him to those victories.
Throwing his fastballs from 90-93 mph, Vogelsong consistently threw inside to right-handed batters, who had great difficulty reading the pitch as it came sailing in under their hands. He threw outside and away from left-handed hitters.
Late life on his two-seamer caused hitters to pound the ball into the ground. Rising movement on the four-seamer induced swings and misses and frequent pop-ups.
In the postseason, Vogelsong's command was so good that hitters could not sit back and hope to elevate his pitch count. It just didn't happen. He threw 102 pitches through seven innings in Game 6 against St. Louis.
When I think of the back roads and the highways, the fast food and the airplanes, the countless cities, countries, towns and villages visited and experienced by Vogelsong ... I get exhausted.
It appears that now Vogelsong can rest his equipment bag in the San Francisco clubhouse. He's grounded. He has roots.
Now, once and for all, at age 35, it appears Ryan Vogelsong has found a baseball home.
Bernie Pleskoff has served as a professional scout for the Houston Astros and Seattle Mariners. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.