Friday, November 19, 2010

What could have been: Cory Wade

When the Dodgers drafted Cory Wade in the 10th round of the 2004 draft, it didn't exactly make headlines.

But six years later, it looked like the Dodgers had struck gold. Unfortunately, that was short-lived.

Wade signed a Minor League deal on Wednesday, thus ending his short -- but memorable (for good and bad reasons) -- tenure with the Dodgers.

The Dodgers first tried Wade out of the bullpen after being drafted. He put up a 3.66 ERA and 1.22 WHIP in his debut. The next two seasons, the Dodgers used him primarily as a starter (started 33 of 58 games), but despite having a starter's arsenal, the experiment did not go well.

His fastball was always fringe-average -- sitting in the upper 80s and touching 90-91 occasionally. His curveball and changeup where his money pitches. His curveball was one of the best I've seen from a Dodger right-hander in a long time. When he was on with his changeup, it was unhittable.

In 2007, he struck out 100 batters in 99 innings between High-A and Double-A, which gave the Dodgers a reason top hope for a decent bullpen arm.

Come 2008, the Dodgers needed an arm in the pen and Wade got the call. He pitched in a lot of crucial games out of Joe Torre's bullpen, posting a 2.27 ERA and 0.92 WHIP in 55 games. But there in lies the problem: It was Torre's bullpen, the manager who had built a reputation on working one or two guys in the 'pen to the brink of breakdown (see Proctor, Scott).

By the time the postseason rolled around, the 25-year-old Wade had the third-most innings pitched (71 1/3) of any Dodger reliever, behind Chan Ho Park (95 1/3) and Hong-Chih Kuo (80).

Wade was fine in the National League Divisional Series against the Cubs, as he pitched in all three games (three hits, one run, three strikeouts). Then came the National League Championship Series against the Phillies.

Wade was cruising in the series, as he threw 2 1/3 scoreless innings through the first three games. When Game 4 rolled around and he was called upon to face Pat Burrell after Kuo gave up a single to Ryan Howard (retired Rollins-Utley-Werth in the seventh inning). Burrell popped out to second for the first out. Then Shane Victorino hit a curveball that almost hit the ground into the Phillies' bullpen to tie the game. Wade retired Pedro Feliz and gave up a single to Ruiz.

That was the end of his night and effectively his Dodger career.

Wade never recovered from that blow. It could have been mental, it could have been physical -- we'll never know. But ever since Victorino hit that home run, Wade hasn't been the same.

He threw 27 2/3 innings in 2009 before suffering an injury and being demoted. He just wasn't the same pitcher.

It's a shame to see what happened to Wade. A once promising bullpen arm is now nothing more than an afterthought in the world of Minor League free agents.

The Rays have a solid reputation of pitchers who were thought to be done resurrecting their careers in Tampa. I the trend continues with Wade.

He was one of my favorite pitchers in his brief time as a Los Angeles Dodger. If not for the injuries and breakdown, Wade could still be in the Dodger 'pen as we speak.

Then again, maybe his 2008 performance was a fluke. I'm inclined to believe he wasn't that good, but he was a solid pitcher.

When I hear the Dodgers are looking for a reliever and see some of the trades Ned Colletti has made over the past couple of years to "strengthen" the bullpen, I just think to myself, "What could have been..."

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