30 Players in 30 Days: Miguel Batista
On July 27th, an anxious crowd waited for Stephen Strasburg to emerge from his warm-up bullpen session, ready to take the mound that night against the Atlanta Braves. Instead, it was Miguel Batista who made that pregame walk from the ‘pen to the dugout with Pitching Coach Steve McCatty. Boos resonated throughout Nationals Park when the PA announcer made it official: Miguel Batista would be the night’s starting pitcher thanks to an inflamed right shoulder that bothered Strasburg during warm-ups.
Batista himself couldn’t believe that the home crowd would boo its own starting pitcher–this isn’t Philadelphia–before he had even thrown one pitch. But that one start, his only start of the season amongst 57 other relief appearances, would define Batista’s entire year. No one remembers that he gave up five runs in 1.2 innings of relief on Opening Day to begin his career with the Nationals, good for a 27.00 ERA. They remember him giving his best Strasburg impression. They remember that he pitched 5.0 shutout innings of three-hit ball while recording six strikeouts. They remember the priceless Miss Iowa reference.
Everyone remembers the comment: “Imagine if you go to see Miss Universe, then you end up having Miss Iowa.”
He later clarified, saying, “People started booing me, and they hadn’t seen me throw a pitch yet. It’s like you hear ‘Miss Iowa,’ and you say, ‘Iowa?’ And then you see her up close and you say, ‘Wow, she’s gorgeous.'”
He could write a book from the one-liners and quotes he’s used throughout his 23 professional playing years. In fact, he has already written two books–a novel and a book of poetry. He’s a philosopher at heart. You ask him a couple yes or no questions and you get a 30-minute commentary on anything from Socrates to Ozzie Guillen. And the man brings a saxophone on away trips.
As unique as he is off the field, he is just as unique on the mound. His value lies in his ability to be used in a variety of situations–now mostly as a long and middle reliever, but he was also once a consistent starter for Arizona and Seattle and an effective closer for Toronto and we, of course, saw what he could do as an emergency starter with ten minutes of prep time this year.
He said of that infamous July game, “I just tried to give the people what they came to see. They came to see a 20-year-old and ended up having [someone] almost 40. They were expecting 10 strikeouts on the bump, but I’m too old for 10. I tried to give them the best I could, stay in the game, make the guys swing the bat because I knew I was limited on my pitches.”
He is consistently giving the best he can. He is a free agent and it is anyone’s guess if he will be back. But it is a safe bet that next year, he will be a reliable part, and probably the most versatile part, of someone’s bullpen.