This year for the Tampa Bay Devil Rays, B.J. Upton is hitting .314 with 22 home runs and 73 runs batted in over the course of 401 major-league at-bats. The 23-year-old super-utility player has stolen 16 bases and doubled 23 times. He is arguably the most potent weapon in a D-Ray system chock full of offensive potential.
This year at Triple-A Indianapolis, Bryan Bullington went 11-9 with a 4.00 ERA. In 150.2 innings spread across 26 starts, he struck out 89 batters while walking 59. In a four-year minor-league career, the Ball State alum is 45-26 with a 3.52 ERA. He was selected first overall by the Pirates in the 2002 amateur entry draft, one pick ahead of B.J. Upton.
On September 18, 2005, Bryan Bullington made his big-league debut with the Pittsburgh Pirates. He relieved Oliver Perez with the bases loaded and two outs in the third inning of a back-and-forth slugfest and forced the first Cincinnati Red he faced, Ryan Freel, to ground out to shortstop Jack Wilson. He came back out for the fourth and wasn’t as efficient: Rich Aurilia walked, Adam Dunn doubled, Austin Kearns grounded out, Jason LaRue was hit by a pitch, Wily Mo Pena hit a sacrifice fly and Chris Denorfia struck out. The next inning Tike Redman pinch-hit for Bullington, ending his line at 1.1 innings, 1 hit, 1 walk, 1 strikeout and 2 earned runs.
As his MLB.com profile notes, Bullington “did not make an appearance in [the] final 13 games [of the 2005 season] due to soreness in right shoulder; [he] underwent surgery on [October 17, 2005] to repair damage to his posterior labrum” and missed all of 2006 recovering. He joined the likes of Sean Burnett and John Van Benschoten as top Pirate draft choices who failed to avoid the surgeon’s table.
Bullington got a brief look from the Pirates this past spring training and pitched impressively. In his first appearance he threw a perfect inning of relief, striking out two batters in the process. He was cut early on in camp, though, as everyone involved knew he’d be forced to Indianapolis to continue rehabilitation on his shoulder. At mid-season, Bullington was named to the International League’s All-Star team—earning the starting nod—and in September, he finally got another call to Pittsburgh.
Soon to be 27, Bullington no longer has the shine of a top prospect—though as Dejan Kovacevic mentioned in his Post-Gazette Q&A yesterday, he still holds himself like one—“this is nothing new to him.” (Nancy Z. of MVN’s Sandlot Swashbucklers had the chance to talk with Bullington in June, and you can see for yourself how personable he seems to be.) Still, even as a former No. 1 pick gone wrong, Bullington has a chance to have an impact on a Pittsburgh rotation ever in search of capable arms. By my count, we have an opening for a fifth starter in 2008. Bryan Bullington may very well be a candidate for that job.
His numbers aren’t all that impressive—especially when put into the context of Upton—but that doesn’t mean I’m not wishing him all the best as he makes his first major-league start this afternoon. He’s been waiting for this day for far too long, and results be damned: It says a lot about his resiliency as a person that he’s made it back this far.
That being said, let’s hope Bullington takes the mound and gives the Cardinals hell.