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09/06/09 3:50 PM ET
Special homecoming for Schlereth
D-backs rookie reliever pitching in key situations
By Owen Perkins / Special to MLB.com
DENVER -- Daniel Schlereth is on his third tour of duty with the D-backs this season, having made his Major League debut in May, 20 days after his 23rd birthday and 10 months after the D-backs drafted him out of the University of Arizona. There was something special about his 12th big league appearance, however, suiting up for the first time in his hometown of Denver on Friday night and facing the heart of the Rockies' order in Todd Helton, Troy Tulowitzki, Brad Hawpe and Ian Stewart. "It was exciting to come to Coors Field and not sit in the stands," Schlereth said on Sunday. "I'd been to the stadium a lot when I was younger and watched the Rockies a lot. It was exciting. The atmosphere was good. It was a good experience for me. I haven't really had any type of career at all, but it'll rank pretty high with things I've done so far." Schlereth was first called up from Triple-A Reno on May 29, taking left-handed reliever Doug Slaten's spot in the bullpen. Schlereth pitched a perfect inning of relief against the Braves in his debut, and he eventually was optioned to Double-A Mobile when Scott Schoeneweis was activated from the bereavement list. Schlereth again replaced Schoeneweis when the fellow lefty went on the disabled list on Aug. 11, and he was sent back to Reno two weeks later to open a spot for Justin Upton -- only to return three days later when Chris Snyder went on the DL. Taking on the middle of the Colorado lineup in the seventh inning of a tied game didn't faze Schlereth, who a few days earlier had faced the meat of the Dodgers order in the eighth inning of a tied game the D-backs ended up winning in extras. "You can't really let that sneak up on you," Schlereth said of his quick immersion into intense innings. "You know the situation, and that's what I've prepared myself to do. Coming in here, I expect to throw in those situations. I know it's a critical time. Maybe it looks like a pressure situation on the outside, but at the end of the day, you're still going in there making pitches, whether you're tied or you're up by 10 or down by 10. It's really the same thing -- maybe the atmosphere is just elevated a little bit." With the Dodgers and Rockies leading the National League West and Wild Card races respectively, the atmosphere has been elevated in Los Angeles and Denver, and the rookie's ability to take big innings in stride has made an immediate impression. For Schlereth, it may help that he's got a level of familiarity, especially in Denver, where his father, Mark, played six years for the Broncos, winning two Super Bowls after his six years and one Super Bowl championship with the Redskins. Schlereth not only saw the Rockies from the stands in Coors Field, he developed friendships with some of the players, most notably Todd Helton, who he hit with as a high school player. "It's a difficult task to introduce young pitchers into volatile environments, let alone a guy that I learned he used to hit with," Arizona manager A.J. Hinch said of Schlereth's appearance, when he walked Helton, gave up an infield single to Tulowitzki, struck out Hawpe and retired Stewart. "I'm not thrilled with the leadoff walk, but he settled in after that to get his outs. After giving up a cheap hit and things weren't really going his way -- a walk, an infield hit -- he controlled his adrenaline." Of his 12 appearances, Schlereth has only yielded earned runs in three of them, and if his four-run June 6 outing in San Diego, when he didn't retire a batter, could be expunged from the record, he'd have a 2.79 ERA. There's an element of necessity, with the bullpen missing some key personnel, but Hinch has had no qualms about initiating Schlereth by fire. "I want to see him against the guys that he's going to have to get out in his career, which are the Heltons and Hawpes, the Tulowitzkis and James Loney," Hinch said. "In L.A., he just faced [Andre] Ethier and [Manny] Ramirez. When you get guys that have the stuff to be late-inning relievers, you're going to have to face the meat of their order. And so this month, I'm not going to force it, but I'm not going to shy away from it. I don't know that babying him or any other pitcher is the most productive way to [handle them]. You ease him into it the best you can, and some situations like [Friday] night, with the game on the line, it's time to test it." Schlereth has shown the stuff to be more than a left-handed specialist, actually faring slightly better against right-handed hitters so far. He also has stayed the course when he comes into a game to start an inning or in the middle of a frame. "I've come in at the beginning of an inning, sometimes with an out, sometimes two, you never know," Schlereth said. "We don't really have anything set down there right now with [Chad] Qualls being out and [John Rauch] being traded. Nothing's really set in stone, so we have to be ready for anything." And while the D-backs don't have a lot on the line this September, their schedule is full of teams battling for playoff slots, giving young players experience in meaningful games with playoff implications. "There's no way to substitute that," Hinch said. "There's no way to practice that in the Minors. There's no third deck. There's no screaming fans in a playoff race. You can't simulate outings like that. He's had a couple of those. Some have gone his way, some haven't gone his way, so for him to learn on the fly and pitch out of a big spot like [Friday night's bases-loaded jam], that is kind of the essence of development in the big leagues."
Owen Perkins is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.