Pete Fairbanks had more than just a memorable major league debut on Sunday. He had a spectacular debut. The 25-year-old Texas Rangers right-hander entered a game against the Oakland A’s in the fifth inning and proceeded to fan the first three batters he faced. He then returned to the mound in the sixth and, with an E-5 sandwiched in between, induced a groundball out and an inning-ending double play. Not bad for a former ninth-round pick who began the season with the Down East Wood Ducks in the High-A Carolina League.
Fairbanks fashioned a 2.35 ERA, with 36 strikeouts in 23 innings between three levels prior to his call-up. The University of Missouri product is a power pitcher. His fastball topped out at 99 mph on Sunday, and his high-80s slider features good tilt. Health had held him back. Fairbanks missed all of last season while recovering from his second Tommy John surgery. He’d also gone under the knife in high school.
Fairbanks discussed his call-up, and the pair of overpowering innings that followed, prior to yesterday’s game at Fenway Park.
Pete Fairbanks: “I came into a game against Reno — we were in Reno — in the fourth inning. I threw 12 pitches, then I come out. I’m like, ‘Well, I sure wish I could have finished that inning.’ Our pitching coach walks by and says, ‘Hey, there’s a reason.’ I don’t think anything of it; I just go in the clubhouse and hang out for the rest of the game.
“I’m washing my hands, and Carlos [Olivas], our trainer in Triple-A, says, ‘Hey, come here.’ We walk into the office and he says, ‘Congrats man, you’re going up to the show.’ I’m like, ‘Are you sure?’ He says ‘Yeah, you’re going.’
“At 6:10 the next morning, I get on a flight to Arlington. I sit in a hotel from the time I get there until about five o’clock the next day, because I’m not activated yet. I’m there for a night game, and then for Game One of [Sunday’s] double-header. Around five they call and say, ‘We’re ready for you to come on over.’ I go over and introduce myself to everybody.
“I got to hang out in the bullpen that game. I would have liked to have thrown that first day, but at the same time, it was nice to get acclimated to the bullpen, acclimated to everybody out there.
“When I was told that I was getting called up, I called the family and some of my friends. I said, ‘Hey, I just got called up, but it’s not official, so don’t go around spreading the news.’ For 36 hours or so I didn’t want them to say anything. They were able to make it down to the game. My family came down; my wife and a lot of her family came down. Dallas isn’t that far of a drive from St. Louis.
“With one out in the fourth, they said, ‘Hey, start warming up.’ Shelby [Miller] gets out of it, and they tell me I have the next inning. At that point nerves start kicking in a little bit. But I was able to wrangle those. I had control of all of my extremities, you could say.
“The most nervous I got was my last warmup pitch [in the bullpen]. It was a fastball, and so wide of our catcher that he didn’t bother reaching for it. I told Oscar [Marin], our bullpen coach, ‘I had to get that one out of the way.’
“Once I got on the mound, I went with whatever Fed [catcher Tim Federowicz] was calling. He’s a little more seasoned than I am, for sure. I usually trust my catchers. That said, I’d never actually thrown to Fed before. We had eight warmup pitches — no, six pitches — for him to get to know me.
“The first pitch I threw was a fastball [to Matt Olson]. It was wide, but then I was able to land a slider. That kind of got me calmed down and back within myself. A few pitches later, I [struck him out] with a fastball. I like strikeouts, so I’m happy with them wherever they come, but it’s a little different feeling to … it’s a pretty high feeling to have done that with my first hitter, especially in terms of where I’ve been the last few months. I kind of had a little walk-around, and was like, ‘All right.’ Then it was right back up on the mound, and ‘go.’
“[Chad Pinder] was a longer at bat. He fouled off a few fastballs. I probably could have been a little more up with them. But [the last three pitches] were fastball, fastball, and then I ran one up high. When I’m able to do that, with the way my slider has been working recently, it’s going to be a good pitch for me. The last batter [Ramon Laureano] I got with a slider.
“My slider is a lot better than it was when I got into pro ball. It doesn’t suck anymore. I tinkered with a bunch of different grips over the years, and eventually was able to turn it into what it is now. It’s a cross-seam. I kind of split my [pointer] finger off a little bit, and moved my thumb up to the side of the ball a little more. It’s almost a curveball grip, but I throw it hard.
“If you look at a TrackMan profile of it, it mainly has slider characteristics. It’s starting to get a little … the vertical movement is starting to get more negative. That’s more of a curveball characteristic, but I throw it like a slider, and I call it a slider.
“Apparently my wife was in the front row. But I had no idea. I usually try … especially now, with however many thousand people are in the stands, to keep within the sphere of what I need to focus on. I don’t want to look up in the crowd. What I will do is kind of look up and out of the stadium, as kind of a reset.
“When I came in [to the dugout], I basically got ‘good job’ from my teammates. [Pitching coach] Julio [Rangel] came over and asked if I had another one in me, and I was like, ‘Yeah, let’s go.’ Between innings, guys will usually just say something to you in passing, then let you chill. They’ll let you stay focused for when you back out there.
“My second inning, what I was most happy with was the groundball double play. I’ve tried to throw my slider a little bit more out of the zone, but with where it landed, and the action on it, I was able to get a double play to end the inning. That was pretty cool. The whole experience was. It’s not something I’ll ever forget.”
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.