After surprise '09 run, Sadowski back with Giants
Right-hander broke in spectacularly four years ago with 13 shutout innings
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- If Ryan Sadowski could receive another 15 minutes of fame, he'd have a better chance of prolonging it.
As accomplished and electrifying as the Giants' homegrown pitchers have been, none of them -- including Tim Lincecum, Matt Cain and Madison Bumgarner -- broke into the Major Leagues as startlingly and successfully as Sadowski did in 2009.
Summoned to the Giants from Triple-A Fresno to replace a struggling Jonathan Sanchez in the rotation, Sadowski won his first two starts while pitching 13 shutout innings. He threw six innings at Milwaukee in his June 28 debut, resulting in a 7-0 decision that averted a three-game sweep for the Brewers. Sadowski was even better on July 3 against Houston, surrendering three hits and walking one in seven innings as San Francisco romped, 13-0.
"I had been with the Giants since '03, but it was one of those things where when I got called up to the big leagues, nobody knew who I was," said Sadowski, who's back in big league camp with San Francisco. "Just a guy who worked his way slowly up the ladder."
For a team bent on breaking its streak of four consecutive losing seasons and sneaking back into the postseason race, Sadowski's efforts were critical.
But the right-hander lost his next four starts, compiling an 8.22 ERA in those outings. Sadowski felt tightness in his throwing shoulder after the final game of that stretch. That didn't put Sadowski on the disabled list, but using five relievers behind him forced the Giants to promote a fresh arm (right-hander Waldis Joaquin). Sadowski returned to Fresno and finished the season there.
Sadowski was granted free agency after that season and signed with Houston as a Minor League free agent, but never pitched for the Astros, who released him in January 2010. He then agreed to go to the Lotte Giants of the Korea Baseball Association. Giants pitching coach Dave Righetti, a friend of then-Lotte manager Jerry Royster, helped Sadowski secure the job with a recommendation.
Sadowski, 30, remained in the consciousness of the Giants, who found themselves needing organizational pitching depth this offseason. They signed him as a Minor League free agent on Dec. 10.
The Giants got a wiser, more polished Sadowski.
"I remember everything as happening really fast," he said, recalling his 2009 success. "All of sudden, I hit a rough spot and I really didn't know how to deal with it. I went to Triple-A and didn't pitch well. I was putting so much pressure on myself. I went to Korea and struggled my first two months there. I thought I was going to get released. Finally, I learned how to deal with pitching in front of 30,000 people and failing, which I had never done before. I settled down a little bit."
Sadowski's peace had its limits. Korean custom mandated that players plunge into extended practice sessions, unlike the streamlined workouts of American professional ballplayers. "You almost live baseball there," he said. "Here, you work at baseball, but then you also live your life. So it's one of those things that's a little bit difficult to adjust to. For those guys, that's just the way they've been raised. They pretty much become full-time baseball players around age 16."
Living in Busan, South Korea's second-largest city, Sadowski adjusted off the field. He learned enough of the native language to function daily. But he had his share of encounters with the media, whom he compared to paparazzi. "The foreign players are a big deal," Sadowski said. "It's almost like you're a celebrity. Very strange."
Due to personnel turnover, returning to the Giants wasn't a full-fledged reunion for Sadowski. "There's only about 10 familiar faces here. And you're one of them," he told a reporter.
He might not stun manager Bruce Bochy and the coaching staff with his skill -- "It's not like I came back throwing 98 [mph]," he said -- but his experience has earned him a measure of respect. "We know he can handle it if he comes up here," Righetti said. "He's a veteran now. We treat him that way."
"He's a guy you definitely want on your side," said fellow non-roster right-hander Scott Proctor, who saw Sadowski pitch in Korea last year. "He's smart."
Sadowski's smart enough to know that competing for a role with the Giants isn't a waste of time, even with 37 pitchers in camp and maybe just one vacancy available on the staff. "You see guys like Eric Hacker and Shane Loux," Sadowski said, citing two pitchers who rose from the Minors to pitch for San Francisco last year.
Sadowski's also driven by a sense of loyalty. A 12th-round selection by the Giants in the 2003 First-Year Player Draft, he remains grateful for the organization's influence on his career, from his six-game Major League stint to Righetti's assistance in securing the Korean job.
"The Giants gave me an opportunity that a lot of teams wouldn't have given me," Sadowski said. "I almost feel like I owe a lot more to the Giants than the Giants have ever owed to me. I always felt like they've done everything they can to make me comfortable and treat me right despite being basically a no-name for a long time."
Chris Haft is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.