Monday, January 18, 2010

Brendan Donnelly

Brendan Kevin Donnelly (we think he might be Irish), the Buc's new reliever, has quite a colorful history. It's pretty safe to say that the fans can expect very few dull moments when he takes the hill. Hey, what would you expect from a Yankee Doodle Dandy born on the Fourth of July?

To start with, to paraphrase Johnny Cash, he's been everywhere, man. So far, if our count is right, Donnelly has pitched for two independent squads, eighteen minor league teams, and five MLB teams in eleven different big-league organizations. Heck, he was even Bucco property briefly in 1999, when he made a couple of completely forgettable appearances at Altoona.

Anyway, the New Mexico native began at Mesa State College, and in 1992, he was drafted in the 27th round by the Chicago White Sox.

He almost made his MLB debut in 1995, when he was briefly a replacement player in spring training during the strike. Not only did he not make the team, but he was barred from membership of the Major League Baseball Players Association.

After that, he bummed around the minors until 2002, spending a decade on the farm until he broke camp with Anaheim, where he would spend the next five campaigns.

Donnelly became a Halo fan favorite because of his intensity, his goggles, and mostly because of his effectiveness as the setup man for Troy Percival. He had a 2.17 ERA in 49-2/3 innings, and the Angels won the Series. Beat up in the AL playoffs, he came back to pitch 7-2/3 scoreless innings against the Giants in five outings during the Fall Classic.

In 2003, in the same role, Donnelly posted an 1.58 earned run average and was selected to the All-Star team. Not only did he pitch in the game, but nailed the win, too.

He suffered a broken nose during spring training in 2004, and missed a big hunk of the season. A batting practice flyball smacked him on the beak. Donnelly saw a minor injury; doctors saw a fracture in 20 places.

Donnelly pooh-poohed it, but it took three surgeries to correct. The nose actually burst during recovery, and it was touch and go for a few hours as the docs pumped blood out of his stomach.

But when he finally came back, Donnelly remained fairly effective for the American League West Champion Angels, who lost to Boston in the playoffs. He appeared in forty games, and struck out 56 batters in 42 innings with a 3.00 ERA. More ominously, 2004 is when he first felt a twinge in his elbow, which would ultimately lead to TJ surgery.

Donnelly also started a long-running feud with then-teammate Jose Guillen, who was benched by manager Mike Scoscia. Guillen thought he was being picked on; Donnelly thought Scoscia was right. Since then, there have been episodes of trash talk, beanballs, mound charges, and bench brawls when the pair match up.

He earned a mention in the 2007 Mitchell Report on drugs in baseball that year, too. Donnelly admitted asking a clubhouse guy about scoring some Anavar, an anabolic steroid, to speed his recovery. The attendant says he delivered it to him; Donnelly said he quickly discovered it was a banned substance and denied ever getting any of the juice. Nothing came of it, except as a part of the Senate transcript.

His last couple of years with the Angels saw his ERA numbers finish at a middling 3.72 and 3.94, and his strikeout rate dropped a bit. No longer though of as a premier set-up guy, Donnelly was dropped to middle relief and then was traded to Boston for Phil Seibel.

Still, he didn't leave the Angels without a last dust-up. He was bounced from a game in 2006 for having pine tar on his glove, leading to a verbal war of words between the National's skipper Frank Robinson and the Halo's Scoscia.

The righty did OK for the Beantown club, with a 3.05 ERA in 20 appearances, until on July 31st, 2007, it was announced that he would need Tommy John surgery. He became a free agent after the season.

On February 6th, 2008, the Cleveland Indians signed Donnelly to a minor league contract with an invitation to spring training. The Indians hoped he would provide bullpen help at the end of the season, but he didn't. It was probably too much, too soon, after undergoing the knife. In 15 late-year outings, his ERA was 8+, more than double his previous season high.

A free agent again, he signed with the Rangers, and they cut him during spring training. Donnelly hooked up with the Astro's AAA Round Rock club, where he put some nice numbers - 1.75 ERA and 23 K's in 24 innings - and signed with the Marlins in July.

In thirty outings, he posted a 1.78 ERA, reviving his career. The Fish protected his arm, using him for just 25+ innings, and his peripheries were back in his normal range - a strikeout per inning and 1.224 WHIP. But they didn't offer him arbitration, and for the third straight year, he was cut loose.

On January 16th, Donnelly agreed to a deal with the Pirates for a one year MLB deal worth $1.35M, with a total of $3M possible if he meets his bonus incentives according to Dejan Kovacevic of the Post Gazette.

The Bucs get a veteran guy who's shown persistence, a nose-to-the-grindstone approach approach to the game, and enjoys working with younger pitchers. Donnelly isn't a hard thrower; his heater sits in the low 90's. When he first hit the show, Donnelly threw the fastball about 75% of the time; now it's down to 50%. He uses a slider early and often, and also has a changeup in his arsenal.

They're hoping that his performance with the Fish, matching his career norms, are what they get this season. Overall, the 38 year-old has a 3.02 ERA, with 8.9 K's, 3.3 walks, and 0.7 HR's allowed per nine innings with a 1.210 WHIP. Donnelly's lifetime splits are strong, too - .225 vs righties, .231 vs lefties.

If he can duplicate that, he's got a chance to return to his set-up days. But his signing isn't without some risk. After all, he's as old as the hills, has a zipper scar on his elbow, and has pitched only about 60 big-league innings in the past three years.

Still, it's a relatively low risk move, with a potential for a decent return, and gives the Bucs time to season Evan Meek and Joel Hanrahan, their future hammers. And besides, anyone who charges out of the bullpen accompanied by AC/DC's "Thunderstruck" is OK in Green Weenie's book.

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