Madrigal making mark for Rangers

Madrigal making mark for Rangers

SEATTLE -- Rookie pitcher Warner Madrigal was asked to make his Major League debut on July 2 against the Yankees in front of 52,659 fans at Yankee Stadium.

He entered the game in the seventh inning with the Rangers trying to protect a 7-6 lead. He faced seven batters. Six reached base on five hits and a walk. He was charged with six runs, the Yankees won 18-7 and Madrigal had a 162.00 ERA after one game in the Major Leagues.

Asked about it two months later, Madrigal just shrugged.

"I broke four bats that inning," Madrigal said. "Bobby Abreu, first batter, broken-bat double. A-Rod [Alex Rodriguez], Robinson Cano, broken-bat singles. Even the only out I got -- Wilson Betemit -- was a broken bat. That's just something that happens. ... That's baseball."

He certainly didn't seem traumatized by it. Two days later, he walked to the mound in Baltimore and pitched 2 1/3 scoreless innings and now has a 2.96 ERA in 22 games since that harrowing night in New York.

Now the 24-year-old right-hander, who took up pitching just a little over two years ago, is getting a chance to pitch in the eighth-inning setup role that Frank Francisco vacated when he moved up to closer.

The Rangers brought Madrigal into a 1-0 game in the eighth inning against the Mariners last week, and he came through with a scoreless inning. He allowed a single but still finished the job in a crisp 14 pitches.

"He's intense," manager Ron Washington said. "He's quite a character. He's not afraid. Right now we're trying to find out how he handles tough situations. Depending on who we bring in this winter, we'll see how he fits in next year. But at least he is getting some experience right now. He might end up being the guy. We'll see, but I can tell you he's not afraid."

Madrigal, who is from San Pedro Macoris, loves deep-sea fishing and listens to reggae music on his iPod, was originally the property of the Angels. They signed him as an outfielder at age 17 out of the Dominican Republic. He had a great arm and power in his bat but three straight years at Class A Cedar Rapids in the Midwest League convinced the Angels that Madrigal wasn't going to be the next Vladimir Guerrero.

They asked him to try pitching. He agreed.

"I felt fine with it," Madrigal said. "They told me I had no chance to be in the Major Leagues as an outfielder, but I could make it as a pitcher. So I did it."

He had never pitched before. They showed him how to throw a slider. That was the toughest part, Madrigal said. Apparently not too tough.

"I just grabbed the ball, threw it and it came out right," Madrigal said.

The Angels made the right decision but failed to reap the benefits. They waited too late last October to put Madrigal on the 40-man roster. When the error was discovered, he was declared a six-year Minor League free agent and other teams lined up.

"There were 20 teams that called my agent right away," Madrigal said.

The Rangers were one. Pro scouting director A.J. Preller and veteran scout Mel Didier were dispatched to the Dominican to get the job done. The tale from there is a bit murky. There are whispers of late-night meetings in back alleys and Madrigal being hidden away by the Rangers in a hotel so no other team could find him.

"It's a sore subject," said one opposing scout who was hoping to land Madrigal.

Madrigal said he signed with the Rangers for one reason.

"I thought I had a better chance," Madrigal said.

He proved to be perceptive. The Rangers started him at Double-A Frisco and he had a 1.72 ERA in 14 games. They promoted him to Triple-A Oklahoma and he had a 3.98 ERA in 17 games. The Rangers decided 31 games and 36 innings above Class A was enough. Madrigal was brought to the big leagues on June 28.

The Rangers, overlooking experienced relievers like Kameron Loe and Wes Littleton, just decided that it was time for a fresh arm and a fresh face.

"A couple of times we had to make a move, and his name came up," general manager Jon Daniels said. "Scouts who went in there and watched him, recommended him. Ultimately we think he has good potential. He works hard and is a good learner. We just felt keeping him here benefited his development. There's no substitute for big league experience."

Even if it includes a terrible debut at Yankee Stadium. But then, every pitcher has to deal with the occasional broken bat.

T.R. Sullivan is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.