Parker Bridwell dealt with his share of adversity in parts of eight years in the Orioles organization, through injuries and inconsistency and going from starter to reliever. But nothing prepared him for a 72-hour stretch he experienced in April.
His first two outings at Triple-A Norfolk didn’t go well. Thrown into the middle innings of a pair of lopsided games, he couldn’t stem the tide, and he was quickly looking at a 15.00 ERA. He knew he was better than that, but he fell victim to an early-season 40-man roster purge. The Orioles made four minor trades in the season’s first 12 days in an effort to supplement their pitching depth, and the last left Bridwell on the outside of the organization looking in for the first time in his career.
He’d been through a lot, but being designated for assignment for the first time was different. He sat in his apartment in Norfolk waiting for the next step in his career, wondering whether it was over.
“It was the weirdest three days of my life,” Bridwell said. “I felt like I was never going to have a job again when I got DFA’d. I sat in my apartment and then the phone rings and a new door opens. Thank God for that. … It’s definitely weird to go through the first time for sure. I wanted to check my phone every five seconds, but I just put my phone away and let whatever was going to take place take place.”
Opportunity came for Bridwell with a fresh start. The Orioles dealt him to the Los Angeles Angels for cash April 17.
And now, less than four months later, Bridwell — who has built the foundation of a strong resume through nine games with the Angels — will start against the team that gave up on him Tuesday night at Angel Stadium.
Bridwell insists that it won’t be any different for him when he takes the mound against the Orioles, but the tone in his voice changes a bit when he talks about the opportunity. Bridwell is a pitcher who has built his career on motivation, and there’s no doubt pitching against his former team offers that.
“It’s another game,” Bridwell said. “It’s another game, and it’s against a team I used to play for at one time. Other than that, no. Whoever stands in the box is an enemy of me at that time. It doesn’t matter if it’s my brother or Dylan Bundy. We’re really close, but if he got in the box, I don’t like him. And at the end of the day, that’s my money I’m trying to make and that’s money they’re trying to take from me. So if I can keep that money, I’m going to do it.”
Bridwell enters Tuesday’s start against his former team 5-1 with a 3.20 ERA in 10 appearances (nine starts) with the Angels. He’s gone at least six innings in seven of his nine starts, and six have been quality starts. In July, all four of his starts were quality — he didn’t allow more than two earned runs in any of them — and he went 4-0 with a 1.69 ERA.
Those numbers are remarkable given the precocious manner in which the Orioles parted ways with Bridwell, especially given the team’s need for pitching depth. Of those four early-season trades, just one player acquired — right-hander Miguel Castro — has pitched for the big league club this season. And the acquisition that led to Bridwell’s bump from the 40-man — left-hander Paul Fry, who was acquired from the Seattle Mariners for an international bonus slot worth $198,000 — had a 4.66 ERA at Norfolk before landing on the disabled list last month.
“I’m happy for him,” Orioles manager Buck Showalter said before Monday’s game in Anaheim. “I hope he does well ... after we leave.”
Bridwell, the team’s ninth-round pick in 2010, had long been one of the organization’s most promising arms, but last year, he transitioned to a bullpen role and he reached the major leagues briefly — a two-outing, five-day stint in August — but some in the organization questioned whether his arsenal would play at the major league level.
His shine wore off quickly. He never received a call-up when rosters expanded in September, and his second big league camp stay was a short one. The team cut bait quickly in April after just two outings.
Bridwell is careful not to criticize the Orioles — he said they treated him and his family well — but he felt he benefited from a clean slate offered in a new organization. Once he joined the Angels, he reported to Double-A to begin being stretched out to return to a starting role, and after just seven starts, the last four coming in Triple-A, he was promoted to make his first major league start May 30 against the Atlanta Braves. Bridwell recorded a quality start, allowing three runs over six innings.
“And it’s not necessarily fresh faces, I don’t want to disrespect anybody,” Bridwell said. “They treated me and my family well, but it’s a business. And that’s the game of baseball. When you move places, you kind of feel a new life. It’s a whole new start, and honestly it felt like I had just gotten drafted all over again.
“Just getting traded, it does a lot for your person. It’s nothing against anybody over there. I loved everybody I dealt with over there. It just does a lot to have a clean slate, new people, and just kind of a fresh start. When you get into a new environment, your new environment, you kind of feel that pressure you felt when you were a rookie [in pro ball] again. It’s been good.”
He’s been optioned to Triple-A and recalled three times since, and he’s performed well despite the shuttle between Southern California and Salt Lake City.
“When you get traded and somebody trades for you, it’s always good for your head,” Bridwell said. “I think that right there made it a little bit easier because it’s always good to have that positive thought in the back of your head, knowing that somebody wants you. But yeah, my mentality on the mound every day is ‘I’m going to do everything I can to force them to make a decision about what to do with me.’ I don’t want to go out there and be average. I want to get up there and put it in the back of their head that I’m capable of competing at the highest level. I’ve been doing somewhat of a decent job of that this year.”
Bridwell’s arsenal has played well at the big league level, and he’s leaned more on his cutter, sinker and slider than he did with the Orioles, throwing fewer four-seam fastballs and mixing in other off-speed pitches, including the changeup that was the focus of his development in the Orioles organization. With that, Bridwell has pitched to contact with confidence. His strikeout numbers are down — just 5.8 per nine innings after averaging 8.1 in the minors — and he’s allowed his share of base runners (hitters are batting .258 against him), but he’s stranded a remarkable 86.9 percent of them.
“With the Orioles, they always stressed the changeup,” said Bridwell, who owned a career 4.79 ERA in the Orioles’ minor-league organization . “If you don’t have the changeup, you can’t make it and all that. I’ve thrown my changeup just as much here. It’s just not as stressed in this organization. It’s one of those things, if you can throw off-speed for a strike regardless of what it is, you’ll be fine. I feel like I’ve thrown a lot of changeups this year, but definitely not as many because they kind of pushed it with Baltimore. But yeah, I throw the same pitches, but it’s just a little different game.”
Showalter was always a fan of Bridwell, constantly lauding his pedigree as a standout quarterback who earned a scholarship to play in college at Texas Tech. And even though Bridwell didn’t pan out with the Orioles, Showalter said he thought Bridwell would see success.
“It doesn’t surprise anybody,” Showalter said. “… I think a lot of Parker. I remember Nathan, my son, scouted the Amarillo area in West Texas, and he’s like a god over there. All they want to talk about is Parker. … Some of the minor league stats, they’re foolers on both sides. You have to get to know the guy. You’ve got to know what it looks like up here, and Parker always had a big league presentation, very competitive. This is a good spot for him. I’m very happy for him.”
Although it was brief, Bridwell said those five days with the big league club last season — his 13.50 ERA over those two appearances is skewed by a grand slam he allowed to the Washington Nationals’ Daniel Murphy in his second outing — helped him immensely for his current place.
“I’ll be the first to tell you that I was inconsistent [with the Orioles], but I’m a professional athlete and that’s a part of it, and that’s why I’m here,” Bridwell said. “When you go through the rough times, it makes it a little easier and having some success to a certain extent. For the amount of moving I’ve done this year, I thought this season would kind of drag on, but getting DFA’d by the Orioles is just an opportunity for me. I looked at it that way regardless of whether I cleared waivers or not. I’m just grateful I have a job with a team and it’s been a great ride honestly. I’m having a great time and that always comes with success.”