SARASOTA, Fla. — Travis Ishikawa knows all about being in the right place at the right time. In 2004, he was hit by a pitch in the face. “I have to say it was the best hit-by-pitch of my life,” Ishikawa said. “It changed my life. It went from the worst thing in the world to the best thing in the world.”
Ishikawa, a 29-year-old first baseman whom the Baltimore Orioles signed to a minor league contract this offseason, was a San Francisco Giants farmhand back then. The hit-by-pitch led him to the dentist’s office, where he met Rochelle, a dental hygenist who was in the office on her day off.
Three years later, the couple was married.
And now Ishikawa believes he’s in an ideal spot in the Orioles’ spring training camp.
The Orioles have anointed Chris Davis to take over at first base for the departed Mark Reynolds. Executive Vice President Dan Duquette, however, likes Ishikawa’s defense at first, making him a candidate for a bench role. Duquette has said that he tried to sign Ishikawa last offseason before Ishikawa instead signed with the Milwaukee Brewers.
Ishikawa owns a career .995 fielding percentage as a first baseman, but his chances of making the team this spring will hinge on his ability to play the outfield. He played just 32 / 3 innings in the outfield last year but played 34 games there in 2011 in Class AAA.
“That would be an added feather in his hat,” Orioles Manager Buck Showalter said. “He’s had a little experience out there, but I want him to get his feet on the ground and get started. I don’t want to categorize somebody as a ‘What if?’ But he provides some depth and he’s a guy who has some experience on some pretty good teams. He was coveted in the offseason.”
Ishikawa is eager to show the Orioles that he can be versatile.
“I know I can do it,” he said. “I just need a little bit of time to get work out there, get a feel for balls off the bat and things like that. I’m not going to win any Gold Gloves out there but I think I can make the couple plays I need to make.”
Ishikawa played 116 games for the Giants when they won the World Series in 2010.
But he’s had a difficult time sticking in the major leagues because he hasn’t produced the usual offensive production for a first baseman. He’s only hit 19 homers in 375 career big league games. Last year, he batted .257 with four homers and 30 RBI in 152 at-bats for Milwaukee.
But in building the Orioles into a contender, Duquette has emphasized the importance of defense. And for a team that will have a difficult time repeating its 16 extra-inning wins and 29 one-run victories from 2012, improving the defense — a key factor to the Orioles’ second-half success — will continue to be important.
“Defensive is something I’ve taken pride in,” Ishikawa said.