On the morning after he made his Pacific Coast League pitching debut, I tossed Tyler Cloyd a softball question that didn’t require a familiarity with thermonuclear physics.
“So Tyler, when did you arrive in Tacoma?”
Cloyd thought for a few seconds, but nothing was budging upstairs. He needed a hint.
“What day is this? Saturday?”
“It’s Sunday,” he was informed.
“Then I got here Friday, maybe. I don’t know. The days run together.”
Welcome to the world of the Tacoma Rainiers, where players come and go with such frequency their days run together.
Take Cloyd. The veteran right-hander was pitching last week for the Somerset Patriots of the independent Atlantic League of Professional Baseball when he learned the Mariners had purchased his contract. He took a flight from New Jersey to Phoenix for a physical exam, and then got on another flight to SeaTac in time to start Game 2 of the Rainiers’ doubleheader Saturday night at Cheney Stadium.
Manager Pat Listach had little knowledge of Cloyd, other than he’s got some major league experience, and underwent Tommy John surgery last season.
“I didn’t know much about him, but he made a very good first impression. I was pleasantly surprised,” said Listach, who was under orders to keep Cloyd’s pitch count at 45 — organization policy for anybody recovering from the commonplace surgical procedure.
Cloyd struck out three, without allowing a run, before reaching his max with two outs in the fourth inning. It was the kind of performance that reminds Listach there are some benefits to his team’s chaotic, revolving-door association with the Mariners.
“It’s fun when you see guys go up to the big leagues and get a chance,” said Listach, referring to such former Tacoma pitchers as Christian Bergman, Sam Gaviglio, Chase De Jong and Dillon Overton.
“They know that when they get there, they’re gonna be put in the game, so it’s fun on that end,” continued Listach. “The part on my end is trying to put together a 25-man roster while trying to win and compete at the same time.”
Between May and September, the 2016 Rainiers were involved with 201 roster transactions. As of Sunday, a few hours before their 6-4 victory over Round Rock, they already were at 107.
“Almost the entire year, we’ve had at least one player from Single A in the starting lineup or in the bullpen,” said Listach. “We had a guy come in from Modesto and give us start. He threw six shutout innings.”
That would be right-hander Nathan Bannister, the Mariners’ 28th round selection in last summer’s draft. Sidelined with an elbow sprain, the 2016 University of Arizona graduate had started only a handful of professional games before his emergency call-up to the Rainiers on May 6.
Bannister retired the first 14 batters he faced at Las Vegas. He allowed three hits with six strikeouts in a no-decision, then was back down in Single A the next day.
“A lot of movement, a lot of injuries. I don’t think I’ve ever been on a team with this many injuries,” said Listach, who has been employed in some aspect of pro baseball since 1988.
While Bannister’s gem May 6 gave him reason to believe he’ll advance to the majors someday, Cloyd’s career is on another trajectory. Once a top Triple-A prospect, he was named the International League’s Most Valuable Pitcher in 2012, the season he started four games for the Phillies. He started nine more times in 2013 before bouncing around the minors again.
Two years ago, Cloyd accepted an offer from the Samsung Lions of the Korean Baseball Organization.
“It was fun over there, good competition, a completely different atmosphere,” said Cloyd. “The fans are crazy. They love baseball and they love their home team. Everybody’s behind it, no matter if they’re getting blown out. I enjoyed it.”
The problem with playing in Korea is that it was on the other side of the world for the University of Nebraska-Omaha product. His wife and two small children remained in the Omaha area while he pitched, and though the Pacific Northwest is not exactly next door to Nebraska, it’s lots closer than Asia.
Cloyd, who turns 30 on Tuesday, will have a chance to visit his family during the Rainiers’ four-game series at Omaha.
“We signed him, he came in, he pitched, he threw great,” said Listach. “And tomorrow, he’s going back to see his wife and kids in Omaha.
“It’s been a good week for him.”
Even if he got some of the days mixed up.