Texas Rangers' Colby Lewis bounces back from low point with Washington Nationals
Tuesday, August 24, 2010; 12:26 AM
It doesn't take long for Colby Lewis to scroll back through his memory to find the low point in his career as a pitcher. His shoulder has met the sharp end of a surgeon's knife. He has gone from top prospect to scrap-heap fodder. He once walked eight batters in less than four innings. He had to go all the way to Japan to reclaim his career. But rock bottom? No, none of those even comes close.
"Without a doubt," Lewis says, "the low point of my career was when the Washington Nationals released me on the day my son was born."
Well, then. That certainly needs some explaining, which the Texas Rangers' right-hander - in the midst of what is by far the best season of his big-league career, for the runaway leaders of the American League West division - is happy to do.
It was the spring of 2007, the Nationals' spring of wayward pitchers, when then-GM Jim Bowden signed any available pitcher with a pulse and invited them all to spring training. It was the spring of Jerome Williams, Chris Michalak, Jason Simontacchi, Billy Traber, Arnie Muoz - a staggering 38 pitchers in all. And it was the spring of Colby Lewis.
"We got out on the field for the first day of [pitchers' workouts]," Lewis says, "and I'm like, 'Oh, my gosh. There's freakin' a hundred of us!' "
Lewis, 31, can laugh about it now. He has been around the world and back since that spring - half a season with the Oakland Athletics, a month in the Kansas City Royals' organization, a few months in the minors, two excellent seasons with the Hiroshima Carp of Japan's Central League. And now back in the states, where he is 9-10 with a 3.37 ERA for the Rangers, the organization that originally drafted him in the first round in 1999. He ranks sixth in the AL in strikeouts, and is in line to get the ball in Game 3 of the Rangers' opening playoff series - provided they hold on.
But it was hard for Lewis to envision a situation like this back on March 19, 2007. On that day, Lewis was standing in a hospital room in his hometown of Bakersfield, Calif., looking down at his wife, Jenny, who was holding their one-day-old son, Cade.
"Honey," he told her, "I just got released by the Nationals."
Jenny immediately started crying. The release had actually come the day before - the same day Cade was born - but Lewis's agent persuaded the Nationals to hold off for a day before calling Lewis. By that time, he had already been assigned to the Nationals' minor-league camp (and was given permission to leave to attend Cade's birth), but he figured he had a job in Class AAA that season, if nothing else.
"I got released by one of the worst teams in baseball at the time," Lewis says now. "I felt like, 'If I can't make it with [them] . . . gosh.' "
Lewis also had to figure out how to retrieve his belongings from Viera, Fla., where the Nationals train. So he took a red-eye flight that landed in Orlando at 7:30 a.m., drove to Viera, gathered his stuff, and by 4 p.m. was back on another cross-country flight, headed home.
Within days, he had been signed by the A's, with whom he bounced between Class AAA and the majors before being released at the end of the season. As he was weighing his options for 2008, an offer came in from Hiroshima - a guaranteed $1 million on a two-year contract. Figuring he needed a sure payday to support his new family, Lewis took it.