As we all know, a spot on a major league team’s 25-man roster is a very sacred and coveted place – after all, there are only 750 of them in all of baseball. We also know that baseball waits for no man and is a game of opportunity; not just the game itself but for a spot on the 25-man roster. As such, an untimely injury or a sudden lack of performance when that magic phone call comes can very well determine a player’s future in the big leagues.
Although the sample size is relatively small, when you look at Dodger right-hander Stephen Fife’s 2-year career numbers with the Dodgers without looking at his win-loss record, you see a guy who is, in fact, worthy of one of those precious roster spots and well deserving of a permanent spot in the Dodgers rotation.
In his 13 starts with the Dodgers dating back to last season, Fife has pitched a total of 72.1 innings in which he has allowed 26 runs (22 earned), 71 hits, 7 home runs, 24 walks and struck out 55. When you put this all together, Fife has a stellar ERA of 2.74, a batting average against of .268 and a WHIP of 1.313. His K/9 ratio is 6.8 and his BB/9 ratio 3.0. He is, however, 3-5 in his short MLB career due primarily to a complete lack of run support.
Fife has always answered the bell when called upon for a spot start and in all honesty should have been in the Dodgers starting rotation on opening day over Chris Capuano, Aaron Harang and Ted Lilly. During spring training, Fife’s ERA was 3.45 compared to Capuano’s 6.75, Harang’s 8.20 and Lilly’s 14.00.
When right-hander Chad Billingsley finally decided to undergo Tommy John surgery (which he should have done last August), Fife filled in nicely in the Dodgers rotation and gave every indication that he was there to stay. But just when it appeared that Fife had finally earned a permanent spot in the rotation, he came down with bursitis in his right shoulder which landed him on the disabled list not once but twice in as many months. As a result, the Dodgers returned left-hander Chris Capuano to the starting rotation when it had already been announced that he was headed for the Dodger bullpen as a long man – something the Dodgers have been without since the departure of Jamie Wright during the off-season.
Although Capuano has been very inconsistent in his 13 starts this season and is 3-6 with a 4.64 ERA, he has been absolutely brilliant at times – including Sunday’s game against the Cincinnati Reds at Dodger Stadium. In that game Capuano went 6.2 innings, allowed no runs and only 3 hits while walking none and striking out 4. With Fife still rehabbing with the Dodgers Triple-A affiliate Albuquerque Isotopes, there is little doubt that Capuano has earned himself another start and quite possibly has pitched himself back into the starting rotation permanently.
While this is great news for Capuano and perhaps even for the Dodgers and Dodger fans, it could very well mean the end of Fife’s days as a Dodger starter and might even now have him on the trading block – if a team looking at him buys this whole bursitis thing, that is. One has to wonder if this recurring shoulder issue is something more serious, something that might eventually lead to shoulder surgery.
That being said, in his two rehab starts with the Isotopes, Fife is 0-1 having pitched a total of 7 innings. And though he got rocked a bit in his July 22 start, he pitched quite well this past Sunday allowing only one run on 3 hits while walking one and striking out 7. In other words, it appears that Fife is ready to be reactivated from the DL. The problem fo course is where do the Dodgers put him? One can only surmise that he will end up in the bullpen as the long man, but even this is in question with flamethrower Jose Dominguez due to come off the DL for a strained quad injury within the next week or two.
“I’m not sure exactly what the forecast is,” said Dodger manager Don Mattingly when asked how and where Fife would fit in with the team. “We’re still sitting here with five starters and the bullpen is throwing the ball well. We’ll just see how it comes out and see if maybe he can use another start down there (in Albuquerque) and just see where we’re at.”
These are not exactly reassuring words for Fife and suggest that his shoulder issue may cause the Dodgers to pass on him entirely yet again. Keep in mind that Fife still has options and that the Dodgers would have to reactivate him from the DL to the 25-man roster before they can option back to Triple-A – or trade him.
“He’s in a situation like a lot of guys are,” said Mattingly. “He has options and if things are going well here at that point do we bounce somebody here? Do we want to use him to give guys an extra day and turn it into a six-man (rotation) for one time through and give everybody an extra day and use him like that? So we’ll see where we go. It’s a nice problem to have because he’s throwing the ball so well.”
So there you have it – clear as mud.