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Kieschnick impresses Brewers
By Peter Gammons
Special to ESPN.com
PHOENIX -- Brooks Kieschnick says he "always loved Babe Ruth," and when we was a junior at the University of Texas he was The Babe of college baseball. He was 16-4 as a pitcher, second in the nation in wins. He batted .364 and hit 17 homers. He was Baseball America's College Player of the Year, and the Cubs took him with the 10th pick in the 1993 draft.
But last spring, in his 10th professional season that included 173 major league at-bats and a .220 batting average, he was sent to Triple-A Buffalo by the Indians, his fifth organization.
"I didn't want to be 40 years old and sitting at home and wondering, 'God, what would have happened if I had pitched, " says Kieschnick. "So I asked the Indians if I could try.
"They let me throw a couple of sessions," but their farm director (John Farrell) really wasn't interested," says Kieschnick. "They were great about it, because they let other teams in the area come see me. Only nothing happened."
So Kieschnick went home, worked out and waited for a call. He finally hooked up with former teammate Rich Sauveur, the pitching coach for the Brockton Boxers in the Northern League. "I was there and threw one day," says Kieschnick, "when my agents called and said that the White Sox wanted me in Charlotte (the location of their Triple-A team)."
And now the 31-year-old Kieschnick is with the Brewers, with a chance to make the team as a pitcher/first baseman/pinch-hitter.
"He could be like having a 26th man," says Brewers pitching coach Mike Maddux.
"He can help this team in a lot of ways," says Brewers manager Ned Yost. "It's a great idea, and he's got a very good arm and a lot of power."
"Last spring I was throwing a bullpen (session) in Brockton, Massachusetts," a place Kieschnick did not want to be, "and now I've got a shot to fulfill my childhood dream."
Kieschnick took full advantage of the opportunity afforded him by White Sox GM Ken Williams. In 69 games with Charlotte, he batted .273 with 13 homers and 40 RBI. The White Sox gave him the opportunity to pitch, and in 25 games he had a 2.59 ERA and a 30/10 strikeout/walk ratio in 31 1/3 innings.
"It was kind of crazy," said Kieschnick. "Some games I was DH'ing and they'd want me to get ready and warm up so I would go down there and warm up. And if my time to bat came up I had to run down, swing the bat, and if I got on base I was kind of in a bad situation. But if I got out, I would run back down and finish warming up and then go in the game to pitch.
"I'd start the Friday game then relieve on Saturday, so my arm could bounce back," said Kieschnick. "But after not pitching for 10 years, the big difference was recovery time. In college, I could just about throw every day. Like I said, I would throw nine innings on Friday and be ready to again throw on Saturday. That was the main thing last year, being able to pitch and then get my arm ready to go the next day. Sometimes the next day my arm was so hard I couldn't get the lead hand through. That's the problem with throwing right-handed and hitting left-handed."
When Charlotte's season was over, one of the first teams to call was Milwaukee, because of new GM Doug Melvin, who knew he had to be creative with a team that lost 106 games last year.
"As a general manager, you always have to look at ways to utilize your roster or somehow expand your roster," said Melvin. "And last year when Brooks was a minor-league free agent I looked at him and he hit 12 or 13 home runs in 200 something at-bats and we had our scout, Larry Haney, who saw him for a couple of innings late in the summer. (Haney) said (Kieschnick) showed good arm strength. So, when you hear something like that the light went on. And my mentoring from Roland Hemond got me excited. Roland was always someone who would always think about ideas like that. I said let's give (Kieschnick) a shot.
"If a player like Brooks can be your 12th pitcher and a bat off the bench, he is performing two roles. He can hit for the pitcher in the fifth inning, and stay out there. If he comes up and you don't want to make a change, he allows a manager to manage an American League game. We love the idea."
In Puerto Rico this winter, Kieschnick pitched 10 scoreless regular-season innings, and two more in the playoffs. He was clocked anywhere from 92 to 97 mph.
"I had never heard of Brooks Kieschnick before and I didn't know exactly what he could do offensively or as a pitcher," said Yost. "But Doug made a convincing case. This guy can throw, and with our team we are going to be limited because we have to take 'X' amount of pitchers, and that may shorten us on the bench.
"(Kieschnick) could be a staff saver. A lot of times you bring a pitcher into a ballgame knowing that your pitcher is coming up the next inning. You have to bring in your pitcher, use a pinch-hitter and then have another pticher come in. If Brooks is doing what we think he can do -- he can come in, pitch that inning, hit for himself and then go back out and throw another inning. You save yourself two players doing that."
Said Maddux: "(Kieschnick) is very raw as far as pitching goes. But as far as having a good extended delivery, he can get out there. He has easy movement on the ball and throws it fairly hard. And then he turns around and grabs a bat and takes you deep. It is kind of interesting."
In the early part of spring training, Kieschnick is following the pitchers.
"I do my throwing routine," he said. "Then, I do (the pitcher fielding practice) and shag a little bit and throw my side work and then throw my live (batting practice). And after I throw my live BP, I put on my helmet and get my bat and face a little live BP."
Yost says that when the spring games begin at the end of February, he'll get Kieshnick at-bats as a first baseman, outfielder and DH when he isn't pitching, especially in 'B' level games.
"I played with Tim Lollar (an All-American DH at Arkansas) at West Haven of the Eastern League and he did this," says Melvin.
Since 1969, three pitchers -- Dan Schatzeder, Ken Brett and Gary Peters -- all pinch-hit 10 or more times in a season. Hall of Famer Bob Lemon, Tommy Byrne and Hal Jeffcoat succeeded Ruth by going from a position player to a pitcher.
"Now when I turn 40, I won't be lying awake wondering what I should have done," says Kieschnick. "This has brought peace to the rest of my life."Send this story to a friend | Most sent stories