I don’t want to talk about last weekend’s dumpster fire of a series out in Colorado. Really, I don’t. But Dylan Axelrod’s start in game two of the Sunday doubleheader got me thinking. These are the things that keep me up at night.
It was, of course, Axelrod’s first and only start for the Reds (he pitched previously in the big leagues for the White Sox), and he pitched well: six innings, two runs allowed on seven hits, with seven strikeouts. It remains to be seen whether Axelrod will ever again toe the rubber for the Redlegs. If he never starts again for Cincinnati, he’ll join a (not-so) distinguished list of one-hit wonders who only made one start in a Reds uniform.
There are actually two other guys who have made their only start for Cincinnati this year: Jeff Francis and David Holmberg. Francis, of course, has started 217 games over a ten-year career in the big leagues. Holmberg made one start for Arizona last year, but he’ll likely leave the Reds’ “one start” club later this week; I expect him to be named Thursday’s starter.
I’m not primarily talking here about relievers who made one spot start in their career, although that’s interesting too. There are plenty of guys like that in Reds history. Ted Davidson was a mediocre reliever who appeared in 110 games over four years for the mid-1960s Reds. His only start came in the third appearance of his career, when he allowed just one run over 7.2 innings to pick up the win in the first game of a doubleheader against the Houston Astros.
There are a number of other guys who made only one start for the Reds, but made relief appearances at other times. Remember Scott Service? He was a Cincinnati kid who pitched more than 100 innings for the Reds from 1993-1997. In all, he spent 12 years in the big leagues pitching for nine different teams. He got his one and only MLB start in 1996, in the second game of a July doubleheader against Philadelphia. He went five innings, allowing three runs on eight hits.
What about Dale Murray? Murray came to the Reds from Montreal in the 1997 trade that sent Tony Perez packing. He pitched in 76 games over two seasons in Cincinnati, including his only big league start. That start was over almost as soon as it began, as Murray allowed three Chicago Cub home runs in one inning of work. Despite giving up six runs in the first, however, Murray didn’t get the loss; that honor went to Jack Billingham, who gave up the winning run in the 13th inning of a wild 16-15 loss.
There are some other names you might recognize, as well. Bruce Chen made one start for the Reds in 2002; he’s still pitching in the big leagues twelve years later. Of more recent vintage are guys like Chad Reineke, Pedro Villarreal, and Adam Pettyjohn. And, of course, Rick Krivda.
My idea here was that I wanted to look at pitchers who started one game for the Reds, in their only appearance as a Red. There are nineteen players in Reds history who fit that description, including the aforementioned Axelrod, Holmberg, and Francis. Yep, fully fifteen percent of all pitchers in this category accomplished this “feat” in 2014. This is just a strange year, Reds fans.
Let’s look at the other sixteen pitchers. One of these is not like the others.
Christy Mathewson made the final start of his Hall of Fame career as a player/manager for Cincinnati. It was a complete game victory in 1916 (in which he gave up eight runs on fifteen hits) over fellow Hall of Famer Mordecai Brown; Mathewson also went 3-5 at the plate, justifying his manager’s confidence in him. That was, however, his only start as a Red.
Before this year, the most recent one-hit wonder was Todd Redmond back in 2012; he gave up four runs on seven hits and five walks in 3.1 innings, and was placed on waivers during the subsequent off-season. Before Redmond, you have to go back to Steve Cooke in 1998. Cooke picked up the win by going six strong innings, allowing one run on four hits. It was the last start of his career.
Here’s a strange quirk of history, however. Before Cooke, the last time this happened was 93 years ago! That’s right: since 1921, five pitchers have made their only appearance for the Reds as a starting pitcher. Three of those have been this season.
You won’t recognize most of the remaining names on the list, guys like Lefty Clarke, Cy Morgan (why is no one named Cy anymore?), Gus Weyhing, Doc Parker, and the immortal Jack Bushelman.
I wanted to specifically mention a couple of the guys who distinguished themselves in differing ways in their only Cincinnati start. Monty “Dazzy” Swartz made one start in the big leagues. It came on October 3, 1920, and Swartz took the loss in a 6-3 defeat at the hands of the Cardinals. In that one start, however, Swartz pitched all 12 innings, surrendering six runs on 17 hits. He lived until 1980, when he passed away at the age of 83. One can only hope that he enjoyed telling the story of that day to his grandchildren. One also hopes that he bragged about the fact that he went 2-4 at the plate, thus finishing his big league career with a .500 batting average.
The other player worth mentioning is ol’ Bill Powell, who appeared in 17 games over four seasons with Pittsburgh, Chicago (NL), and Cincinnati from 1909 to 1913. The final appearance of his big league career was his only start with the Reds and, well, it wasn’t a distinguished outing. In that game (on April 28, 1913), he gave up two hits and two walks, and recorded only one out, before he was removed from the game. His career ended that fateful day.
Yes, I’ve wasted 1000+ words on this irrelevant topic, but I’m not finished yet. I already talked about Mathewson, but if you can believe it, there are two more Hall of Famers on this list of 19 pitchers whose only appearance for the Reds was a start. One of those was Clark Griffith. Griffith pitched one game for the Reds as a 39-year-old in 1909; like Mathewson, he was player/manager at the time. He pitched twenty years in the majors, but Griffith was inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 1946 because of his contributions to the game as owner of the Washington Senators for 35 years.
The other Hall of Famer in this group will surprise you. It’s Jake Beckley. Beckley was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1971, and he was actually inducted into the Reds Hall of Fame just this year. Beckley hit .325/.375/.443 in 880 games with Cincinnati, posting a 129 OPS+ while collecting 1126 hits. Beckley’s .325 average is the third-best in franchise history (behind Cy Seymour and Edd Roush) and, though he was a stocky first baseman with a sweet mustache, his 77 triples for the Reds is among the top ten all-time. In fact, at the time of his retirement from baseball in 1907, “Old Eagle Eye” was professional baseball’s all-time leader in triples.
And did I mention that he pitched a game? Beckley’s only start came in 1902, when the 34-year-old surrendered eight runs on nine hits in four innings, finishing his pitching career with an 0-1 record.
So there you go. Yes, you just read an examination of the pitchers whose only game for the Reds came as a starter. I know your life is better, more enriched, for having received this knowledge. Congratulations.
After looking at it, my only disappointment is that there is one name missing from the list. I wish the Reds had seen fit to give one start to Adam Dunn. Clearly, that guy can pitch.
Blame Chad for creating this mess.
Chad launched Redleg Nation in February 2005, and has been writing about the Reds ever since. His first book, “The Big 50: The Men and Moments That Made the Cincinnati Reds” is now available in bookstores and online, at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and wherever fine books are sold. You can also find Chad’s musings about the Cincinnati Reds in the pages of Cincinnati Magazine.