After the rather heart-stopping infield collision between Joey Gallo and Matt Bush, the Texas Rangers have, again, dipped down into the AA well and called up a rookie reliever, this time pulling 24-year-old righty Nick Gardewine out of Frisco, flying him to LA (or Anaheim or whatever), and plopping him down into the middle of a Major League bullpen. They did the same thing a couple weeks ago with Ricky Rodriguez, both young guns skipping the AAA level altogether. Gardewine, unlike RicRod, has spent the entire year at AA Frisco.
Nick just celebrated his 24th birthday on the 15th. He was drafted by the Rangers in 7th round of the 2013 draft out of Kaskaskia College in Illinois. Fun fact: he was the 8th player drafted out of Kaskaskia College, and those 8 players have accumulated a total of 0.0 WAR in the majors. He was originally drafted as a starter and had a try at that for his first few seasons in pro ball, starting 38 games between Hickory and Spokane and the rookie team and posting some middling numbers. He was sent to High Desert to start the 2016 season and has worked exclusively as a reliever since, and that change is what’s propelled him so quickly up the minor league ladder. He spent all of 2016 in High Desert (so he’s paid his dues) and put up a 2.47 ERA with 60 strikeouts in 54.2 innings.
He sustained that success in Frisco this season, posting a 2.41 ERA in a sort of hybrid closer/setup/finisher role in the back of the RoughRiders’ bullpen. Back when the Rangers’ pen was reeeeeally struggling, I wrote a bit about Nick being a possible call-up candidate if the Rangers were to look to the AA level for help. At the time, he was battling some arm issues that eventually led to him missing the entire month of May, but had shown enough in the first three weeks of the season to garner some attention. In the three months since, he’s found his groove.
Nick works with a fastball around 94-96 mph, and has a hard slider in the high 80s with some sharp, late break that will get a lower-level hitter to wave like an idiot at a pitch a foot off the plate. He has a rather compact motion, always from the stretch, with a release point that’s practically straight up over his right ear. There’s been a few times I’ve seen him this year where the fastball command wasn’t there, and Nick is willing and able to use that slider to pitch backwards and work out of some jams (also, the other half of the battery is usually Jose Trevino, who Nick has openly attributed a lot of his success to). He’s tough out there on the mound, and definitely has the mentality needed for a late-inning guy. He’s blown one save in five opportunities this season and it was flukey. He was one strike away from ending the game with the tying run on third, and this happened:
Rough night for the RoughRiders' pen, here's Nick Gardewine with a Clemens-esque fling of a broken bat after a bad luck game-tying single. pic.twitter.com/yFtIUAbtTX— RJ Coyle (@coylio33) July 16, 2017
Nick, obviously, was not pleased. And on GameShow Night, no less. /batfling
Gardewine’s plus makeup is something that has become apparent after watching and listening to him for a prolonged period. I’ve heard interviews with him where he talks about how tight he is with the guys on the team, and how he’s known many of them since he was a 19-year-old Rookie-baller. He’s also discussed accountability and how he’s not averse to letting someone know if he thinks they’re dogging it. The same kid has a strong goof-factor, and you’ll see him pregame having fun and messing around with the other bullpen dudes. And off the field, he’s the kind of guy who will go through on Twitter and individually thank the people who congratulated him on the call-up.
As was noted by Tepid P. yesterday, Nick (and Ricky Rodriguez before him) is getting this shot because he throws strikes, misses bats, and plays hard. He’s struck out 13.4 per 9 and that’s without allowing many walks and keeping hard-hit balls to a minimum. He’s allowed two home runs all season (one was last Wednesday, a nice little kiss goodbye from the Texas League). These could be a few of the reasons Nick got the call over someone like Connor Sadzeck or Sam Wolff, two other farmhand relievers who have flashed dominant stuff out of the pen. Those two are prone to the “implosion” inning, though, whereas Gardewine has avoided the blowup outing since... maybe all the way back to August of last year.
Gardewine also (again, like RicRod) had a looming 40-man decision coming up this winter, so the Rangers will be glad to have a look at him before the season ends. Obviously, the “we’re out of the race, let’s just see what the kids have” narrative has evaporated, and there could be a time where Nick is depended on for high-leverage outs with playoff implications on the line. And the Rangers, clearly, aren’t afraid to throw him out there, as they had Nick up and warming with the game-tying run at the plate late last night vs. the Angels, before Hollywood Hamels decided he was tired of these monkeyshines and retired the next 5 batters he faced.
Perhaps the weirdest note surrounding his callup: Nick Gardewine will sport jersey number 45, the number worn by Derek Holland for the last seven or eight seasons.
In summation: Go Nick. He’s a good kid with a live arm and a huge opportunity before him, with a club that has shown confidence in him and rewarded his success. Let’s hope the time comes shortly when Jeff Bannister will turn to him and say “Gardewine, take that pearl.”