April 19, 2012
By JEREMY COTHRAN
SEATTLE - Nick Hagadone was boarding a bus in Indianapolis when he got the tap on the shoulder. Columbus Clippers manager Mike Sarbaugh had a wide smile and even better news for the 26-year-old left hander, delivering the "son, you're headed up to the big leagues" speech minor leaguers giddily play out in their heads a thousand times over.
This was no ordinary Triple-A to Major League call up. Hagadone would be joining the Cleveland Indians in the Pacific Northwest for a three-game series against the Mariners, the team he rooted for most of his life growing up in Sumner, Wash. Immediately, the former University of Washington pitcher picked up his cell phone, trying to reach his wife. Unable to do so, Hagadone's next call went to his parents. The message was a brief one: see you at Safeco Field Monday night.
"They were just so happy," Hagadone said of the reaction from his family. "Not only that I was getting called up, but that it was here in Seattle. It all just worked out so perfectly."
Cleveland officially called up Hagadone after shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera returned to his native Venezuela on bereavement leave following the death of his grandfather. This means Hagadone's stay with the parent club is most likely temporary, but he intends to make the most of his audition.
The Indians view Hagadone as a key piece of the organization's future, projecting the hard-throwing reliever as a late-inning specialist. Hagadone was one of the last cuts out of Spring Training, even after pitching well in Cactus League games. In 2011, Hagadone appeared in nine big-league games as a September call up, compiling a 4.09 ERA in 11 innings of work.
"I don't look at him as a fill-in guy," said Indians pitching coach Scott Radinksy. "He's one of our guys. It's just a matter of time. If he stays healthy, the opportunity is going to be there for him."
In scripting Hagadone's development plan, the Indians wanted to see the young reliever exercise more control of his pitches. So despite a 2.53 ERA in 10 2/3 innings of work in Spring Training, Hagadone was called into manager Manny Acta's office and sent down to Triple-A. He went to Columbus with strict instructions: command the fastball better.
When Hagadone made his season debut against the Mariners in the series opener on April 17, surrendering a lone single and a walk while striking out two in 1.1 innings, it was evident he had taken the instructions to heart. He was summoned from the bullpen in the fourth inning with the Indians already trailing 8-1 and a pair of runners on base poised to extend the margin. In just four pitches, though, Hagadone had eliminated the threat with a slider to Seattle's Kyle Seager.
Of the 30 pitches Hagadone threw on Monday night, 20 were for strikes. His adrenaline, buzzing when he arrived at the ballpark, had dropped to a more manageable level after taking the mound at Safeco. Despite facing a team he rooted for as a child, Hagadone coolly performed his professional duty when Acta made the call to the bullpen.
Little did Hagadone know his outing would be the stabilizing presence the Indians would need, scoring seven runs the next inning en route to a 9-8 victory.
Growing up, Hagadone identified with no other Seattle professional team more than the Mariners. He was at the one-game playoff against the Anaheim Angels in 1995, watching his idol Randy Johnson toss a three-hitter at the old Kingdome to secure the Mariners' American League West title.
"This is always something I was looking forward to," Hagadone said about facing the Mariners. "It's something I thought about during (batting practice) while I was doing my running, just checking out the ballpark, or when I was sitting in the bullpen. But once I ran out on the mound, it was just like another game. It was all business."
Many thought Hagadone's role in the majors would be more clearly defined by now, especially after the hard-throwing 6-5, 230-pound pitcher was the Red Sox's first draft pick in 2007. But his career was put in jeopardy after Tommy John surgery on his left elbow in 2008. Only now, almost four years and one trade later, does Hagadone feel like his slider has regained its bite.
"We all knew this was going to be sooner rather than later," said Indians reliever Joe Smith, who got to know Hagadone in Double-A Akron last year, of the call up. "He threw the ball great this spring. All he needed was more experience."
In three seasons on Washington, Hagadone built a reputation as one of the top closers in the Pac-10 Conference. He would often finish off the games started by another highly regarded Husky - current San Francisco Giants ace Tim Lincecum. The two pitchers broke a 28-year drought when they combined for a no-hitter against Santa Clara in 2006. Friday night games at Husky Ballpark were overflowing with scouts, as Lincecum and Hagadone had become must-see theater in the professional baseball community.
When Hagadone returned to the visiting clubhouse following his appearance on Monday, his cell alerted him to almost three dozen new text messages and missed calls. The next morning, Hagadone was able to briefly reacquaint himself with Seattle, enjoying lunch with his mother and grandmother downtown before returning to Safeco.
In the winter, Hagadone is a regular in the Husky weight room and the Dempsey Indoor facility, going through a workout prescribed by a former strength coach. This is where he spends his offseason, keeping his mind far off baseball and more towards Husky football. He quizzed a visitor affiliated with Washington about the stadium renovations, when they would be finished and how the process was going.
Hagadone doesn't consider himself a flag bearer for the Husky baseball program at the major-league level. That's a title he reserves for his ex-teammate in Lincecum. But he sees himself as someone who leads by example, and is always ready to dispense advice when current members of the Huskies ask about the professional life. Hagadone's time in the bigs is at a nascent stage, and he's still enjoying the journey.
As for the extent of his stay with the Indians, Hagadone isn't worried about what he can't control. His goals are simple.
"I'm putting everything I have into every pitch," Hagadone said. "And I'll do that until they take me out of the game."