2013 in brief: He really started ten games for the Dodgers? Ten?
2014 status: Valuable depth to have around, even if it’s usually bad news when he’s actually pitching.
It’s nice to have a guy like Stephen Fife. You bury him on the depth chart and you hope you rarely need to use him, but when you do, you know he’ll at least keep you in the game, which is all you can ask for from your #7 or #8 starter, and… oh, the 2013 Dodgers made it only until their 18th game before they had to use him? That sounds about right.
Yes, with Zack Greinke & Chris Capuano injured, Aaron Harang traded, and Ted Lilly already in the rotation, it fell to Fife to make the surprise start on April 21 in Baltimore when Chad Billingsley‘s elbow gave out. Fife allowed four runs in 4.2 innings, then landed on the disabled list with right shoulder bursitis. (Doing these reviews really reminds me how hilarious the first six weeks of 2013 really were. Sigh.)
Fife made one rehab start in May for Single-A Rancho Cucamonga, and he returned on June 3 to replace Capuano. I’d tell you what he did in that game, but it doesn’t matter, because you might remember June 3 as being “Puigmas“. Fife stuck in the rotation for the entire month of June, and I have to admit that he was actually fabulous. In six starts, he allowed only nine earned runs, striking out 30 against 10 walks. On June 21, I had to take some time out to acknowledge him:
That’s 10 starts over 2012 (top) and 2013 (bottom). Eight times he’s gone at least five innings, nine times he’s allowed two runs or fewer. Obviously, raw “runs allowed” isn’t really the greatest metric in the world because it’s so opponent-, fielding-, bullpen-, and ballpark-dependent, but for a guy we had zero expectations for, that’s a pretty good run. Honestly, the only really lousy start he’s had was in his first of this year when he was a last-second replacement flown to Baltimore when Chad Billingsley‘s elbow gave out, and even then I can’t really kill a guy for having a hard time facing Chris Davis & Manny Machado.
(snip)But if the question is, “do I believe in Fife more than I do Matt Magill?” Right now, yes. “More thanTed Lilly?” Oh hell yes, you better believe I do. For a guy included in a trade that we absolutely destroyed Ned Colletti on — the Trayvon Robinson-for-Tim Federowicz deal, and while I hate to give Colletti any more credit than truly necessary, he was absolutely right on that one, and we were all wrong — he’s proven himself, so far, to be a pretty nice guy to have around. In a season of disappointment, we’ll take what nice surprises we can find.
But after a weird start in San Francisco on July 6 — four runs, but only one earned, yet somehow striking out and walking zero apiece — it began to fell apart, and quickly. Initially, it was announced that Fife would keep his job while Capuano would get bumped to the bullpen by trade acquisition Ricky Nolasco, but that never happened: Fife returned to the disabled list with another bout of right shoulder bursitis.
Fife made two good starts for Albuquerque in late July, then came up to briefly serve as a sixth starter on August 4 in Chicago, and this is where things started to get weird. Fife was good in Wrigley, tossing 5.1 shutout innings. Unfortunately, that was also the game where Hanley Ramirez injured his shoulder running into the stands, and since the team needed to recall Dee Gordon without wanting to disable Ramirez, that meant another trip back to the minors.
The Dodgers then attempted to have Fife work out of the bullpen in Triple-A… and it couldn’t have gone worse. He allowed ten baserunners over his first two appearances, and when they put him back as a starter on August 19, he got only a single out while walking five. In three August starts, he lasted 9.2 runs and had allowed 11 earned runs.
Five days later, Fife was back as a starter against Oklahoma City, and it couldn’t have gone worse. He threw 34 pitches, but just 8 for strikes, as he left after having walked five and notching a single out. He at least made it through five the next time out, but then last night only 43 of his 80 pitches went for strikes as he allowed 12 baserunners in 4.1 innings.
Is his shoulder aching again? Did the brief move to the bullpen screw him up? We don’t really know, though Jackson indicates that he seems to be healthy. He’ll still likely get a recall when rosters expand this weekend, but it’s incredibly difficult to count on him right now. As poor as Capuano has been and as terrible as Volquez is, I can’t really say with any degree of confidence that Fife is a more reliable choice given his last month.
Fife did come up, and worked (poorly) out of the bullpen until being given a start on September 17 in order to give Clayton Kershaw an extra day. He lasted only 2.1 innings, allowing four earned runs.
So what we have here is a guy who had a surprisingly effective month of June in the bigs, had difficulty staying healthy, and couldn’t get anyone out at any level in the second half of the year. That sounds like a prototypical eighth starter to me — a guy you like having around, but one you hope you never really need to rely on.
Next! More starters!