JB Wendelken on His Inauspicious A’s Debut

J.B. Wendelken had an inauspicious MLB debut. Called up by Oakland from Triple-A Nashville on Sunday, the 23-year-old right-hander retired just four of the nine batters he faced. Following a mound visit, he gave up a grand slam.

The native of Savannah, Ga., was originally Red Sox property. Drafted in 2012, he was subsequently swapped to the White Sox, and later to the A’s. Finding out he was going to the big leagues was every bit as surprising as being told he’d been traded. He was so stunned by the news that he sat down.

Wendelken didn’t have to wait long to get into a game. Hours after joining the team in Baltimore, he was standing on the mound with his eyes wide and his heart beating fast. Needless to say, it was an experience he’ll never forget.

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Wendelken on learning he was being called up: “We were in Nashville and coming up on a closing situation. I’d been told by my pitching coach, Rick Ro [Rick Rodriguez], that I’d either be the late-inning setup guy or our closer. That time came along, and I was left sitting there. I was a little confused, but there was nothing to it. I didn’t think too much about another guy being up.

“Right after the game, my manager called me over and said, ‘You know, you’re on the 40-man and you’re supposed to be in those situations.’ I was like, ‘It’s not a big deal.’ Then he said, ‘They called and said they wanted us to sit you out, because they aren’t sure if they’re going to need you or not.’ That kind of thing. I was like, ‘Um, that’s never a bad thing, right?’ We joked about it a little bit.

“I literally sat down. My locker is right next to Daniel Coulombe’s and I was like, ‘Dude, he just scared me right there. My heart’s beating.’ I was so giddy that I couldn’t even explain what was going on.

“I fixed my food. I ate. I showered. I was getting dressed and my pitching coach [Steve Scarsone] came out and said, ‘Hey, I need to talk to you real quick.’ I was like, OK.’ I went into his office and he wasn’t in there. I was, ‘What the heck.” So I turned around and walked back to the manager’s office and asked Scar where Rick Ro was. There he was, sitting right there.

“They said, ‘Have a seat.’ Then it was, ‘You’re going to Baltimore tomorrow.’ I sat down. I was astonished. I said, ‘Are you being serious right now?’ They said, ‘Absolutely.’ I was so starstruck that I didn’t move. I was walking around like a zombie. It was unbelievable. I mean, it was like a dream come true right there.

“My mom was actually in town. She was there to spend mother’s day and her birthday with me. I was able to tell her face-to-face. Her and my aunt. My mom, she couldn’t hold it together.”

On getting ready for his first game: “I was raised in Savannah, Ga., and the closest team was Atlanta, so we only went to a handful of games growing up. We did have the [Low-A] Sand Gnats and would go to them every now and again. Other than that… I wasn’t used to large crowds. The atmosphere was a big one for me.

“It was getting late in the game and we were down by a few runs. Sitting in the bullpen, I knew it was a possibility that I might be coming in. I knew I needed to stay loose, so I got up. I literally started stretching my legs and the phone rang. They told me to get ready and I took a deep breath. Next thing you know, I was standing on the mound.

“I was fine until after my last warm-up pitch. That’s when the nerves came. I was stepping up to the thing and there went the blood pressure shooting up. I started to shake a little bit. I was standing there jittery, like, [inhales deeply] ‘OK, let’s do this. It’s do or die now.’”

On his first big-league inning: “The first pitch I threw was a fastball and the dude hit it for a single. It was Adam Jones. It was a fastball in and I thought it was going to hit him when he swung. He found it and got it through a hole on me, a line drive one-hopper. It was, ‘Welcome to The Show.’

“After you throw that first pitch…. as long as it’s a strike, I can control my body. If not, it kind of tends to speed up on you. You hear everybody say, ‘Don’t let the game speed up on you,’ but after that first pitch I kind of got through the inning pretty easily. You could tell that I calmed down a little bit.

“I got [Mark] Trumbo out on a changeup. I was beating him a little with… I was not beating him with fastballs. I was not beating him but I was throwing the fastball and keeping him honest with a changeup that keeps hitters out front. Luckily, I got him to pop up on a changeup.

“After that, I got [Matt] Wieters. It was another changeup. I located it well. It started out kind of like almost at the bottom of the zone — enough for him to at least jump at it — and it fell out of the bottom for a strikeout.

“I did [think about it being his big-league first strikeout]. I made the big loop and thought to myself, ‘You can pitch at this level, just trust your stuff.’ That kind of thing.

“Then I threw nothing but changeups (to Pedro Alvarez). He was all out front of them. It was four in a row? Five in a row? He grounded out.”

On what went through his head between innings: “After the inning, I shook everybody’s hand. It was a good job, welcome kind of thing. But I assumed I was going back out there for the eighth.

“Other than that, it was just, ‘Give me some water.’ I wanted to try to relax and get myself off that high. I wanted to get it down a little bit.”

On his second big-league inning: “I was calm walking back out to the mound, but at the same time I was still in the atmosphere. I was still hyped up. I felt like I needed to do more than I actually had to do, which was literally ‘Trust your stuff and throw it.’ I ended up letting things speed up on me. I let it get in my head.

“I don’t think I let the inning snowball on me. I wouldn’t say it that way. I was close to getting guys out, but they weren’t going to swing at the borderline pitches. I was throwing borderline pitches.

“When Curt [Young] came out [after the first three batters reached], he told me to relax and just go after the next hitter. Even though it was Manny Machado, go after the next hitter. He didn’t say anything about it being Machado, but I watch these hitters on TV. He’s really good. That’s the weird thing. You watch them on TV, wishing you could be there, and then you’re there, staring them eye-to-eye. And if you make one bad pitch…

“I was basically going off-speed to him. I was throwing changeups. In my head, I was like, ‘If I can get him out in front to roll over a ball, maybe I can get that double play.’ I wanted to at least limit the damage.

“I had him two strikes early, but then let it get away from me. It went to 3-2. I was supposed to throw a fastball away, but it just spun up there, a little bit up and in, and he demolished it.

“All I could think was, ‘This batter is over with; I have to go after the next batter.’ It was Chris Davis and I actually struck him out. Even though I’d given up the grand slam, that right there was a big confidence booster. Then [Bob Melvin] came out to the mound and got me. He said, ‘Good job, man.’”

On looking back at the experience: “You have to let it roll off your back. You can’t dwell on it. You have to go about your business and carry your confidence over to the next day. Don’t let the past bother you.

“When I talked to my parents, they basically said, ‘Get them next time.’ They weren’t at the game, because it was such late notice. I didn’t even get there until about an hour and a half before. But they’re here today [at Fenway Park]. They’re here to see me pitch, and maybe I’ll get another chance.”





David Laurila grew up in Michigan's Upper Peninsula and now writes about baseball from his home in Cambridge, Mass. He authored the Prospectus Q&A series at Baseball Prospectus from December 2006-May 2011 before being claimed off waivers by FanGraphs. He can be followed on Twitter @DavidLaurilaQA.

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Cool, fun article listening to this kid have his dream come through. Thanks for this stuff!