Everyone hates spoilers, so I’m sorry about this. It doesn’t take a discerning eye to notice the headline and picture at the top of this post have already laid out the biggest moment in the latest installment of the journey Oliver T. Marquez, the next great (virtual) prospect for the Boston Red Sox. Marquez is now pitching for the Pawtucket Red Sox, which means he got called up to Triple-A in his third month in professional baseball.
It’s not entirely surprising that Marquez got the call after what he accomplished in April and May as a member of the Portland Sea Dogs. After tossing 6 1⁄3 innings of one-run ball on June 1 against the Binghamton Rumble Ponies, he was sporting a 0.72 ERA and 0.77 FIP across 62 2/3 innings in Double-A. The next day, he was called into the manager’s office and told the time had arrived for him to take off for Pawtucket. Such an ascension is nearly like when Stephen Strasburg logged five starts in Double-A and six starts in Triple-A before being called up to the majors in 2010.
Before we start digging into how Marquez (aka I) fared after the call-up, let’s get to know the team he joined. Pawtucket was 29-27 and a game-back of a three-way tie for first in the International League North. Marquez was inserted into a starting rotation that featured two familiar faces (Brandon Workman and Hector Velázquez) and two totally real and not computer-generated pitchers named George Trejo and Ray Dean.
Trejo appeared to be the nominal ace of the staff. The 21-year-old right-hander had a 3.09 ERA and 3.78 FIP across 12 starts (64 innings) when Marquez got called up. Dean, a 22-year-old right-hander, had struggled to that point (5.44 ERA) as had Workman (5.49 ERA) and Velázquez (4.66 ERA), although the latter two had combined for only six starts. If you’re wondering why Workman was starting, I’ll remind you that I am playing MLB The Show 19, so he hadn’t turned in his impressive 2019 campaign as a reliever at this point.
In the lead-up to his first start with Pawtucket, Marquez chose to put in some work in the bullpen, focusing on changeup control. That first start came pretty quickly, however, with only three days of rest between his last start in Double-A and his first in Triple-A against the Lehigh Valley IronPigs on June 5.
Things started beautifully. Pawtucket took a 1-0 lead in the top of the first and Marquez went up 0-2 on the first batter he faced. Unfortunately, he wound up issuing a walk and allowing a run-scoring single later in the inning before getting out of the frame. The rest of the outing was a similarly OK affair, ending with a line of five innings, two earned runs, two walks, four hits and two strikeouts.
Just to be safe, I had held off on increasing the difficulty like I teased last week to get a feel for Triple-A. The last thing I wanted was to go from pitching like a young Pedro Martinez to having a double-digit ERA. Therefore, the struggles in the first start aren’t a difficulty problem and can be forgiven because of the combination of short rest and the jump in competition. With plenty of rest, Marquez can go back out and dominate like he’s used to doing.
In a stark reminder of the the many, many limits of this exercise, Marquez’s turn in the rotation came only two days later. Either this game thinks the Red Sox organization is obsessive about making sure pitchers pitch when their allotted turn in the rotation comes up or this was a minor hiccup in a video game. I’ll guess it was the second option.
Somehow, the lack of rest did nothing but fuel Marquez. He laid down six innings of shutout baseball against the Rochester Red Wings and even pitched into the seventh before giving up a single to the leadoff batter. The bullpen held from there and secured Marquez his first Triple-A win by a score of 1-0.
Marquez was given a full rest period between starts after that. During that time he worked on his curve in the bullpen and also got to know Dean a little better. Dean ended up improving during June and shrunk his ERA down to 4.44 by the end of the month.
Marquez’s ERA went in the opposite direction after his next start, although not because he pitched poorly. He flew through the first seven innings and held a 1-0 lead before being asked to pitch in the eighth. He gave up a single to start the inning and then got two outs, but a run-scoring double ended his day and when the inherited runner came around to score, Marquez was on the hook for the loss. Pawtucket didn’t score again and Marquez took the defeat despite scattering six hits and two earned runs across 7 2⁄3 innings.
The days between starts featured more bullpen work as well as a heart-to-heart with Blake Swihart. (Remember, this is the 2019 version of the game). Swihart mentioned he was concerned about struggling at the plate, so Marquez offered him some encouragement. Unfortunately, at the end of the month, Swihart was slashing just .230/.331/.323 across 226 at-bats.
Marquez pitched fairly well in his next start, allowing two earned runs over 5 2⁄3 innings against the then 45-25 Durham Bulls but was taken out after only 61 pitches.
After that start, he worked on his changeup in the bullpen and bonded a bit more with Swihart. Let’s hope the virtual Swihart sticks around longer than his real-life counterpart.
Marquez once again failed to get past the sixth inning in his next start against the Buffalo Bisons, throwing 91 pitches (61 strikes) across 5 1⁄3 innings. He did not give up a run in that time, but he did hit a batter for the first time in his professional career.
More bullpen work followed from there as well as a chat with Tzu-Wei Lin. Like Swihart, Lin is also having some trouble getting going and by the end of June, had slashed .254/.316/.350 in 183 at-bats.
Speaking of the end of the month, Marquez’s final start of June came on the 29th when he faced Rochester again. He still couldn’t go very deep, exiting after five innings in which he allowed two earned runs. He got support, however, as Pawtucket went on to win 5-2.
June wrapped up the next day with Pawtucket in pretty solid position. The Red Sox are 47-35 and have won eight of their last 10 games. They hold a one-game lead over the Syracuse Mets in the IL North division and are 18-9 since Marquez was called up.
In terms of roster moves, the rotation has changed a bit because Velázquez got called up to the majors. His replacement is 23-year old right-hander Pablo Lopez.
As for Marquez, despite struggles with stamina, he is still performing well. He is 3-1 with a 2.08 ERA and 2.60 FIP across 34 ⅔ innings in Triple-A. He still strikes out far more batters (25) than he walks (3) and has already been worth 1.0 win above replacement. However, he also got tagged for the first and second home runs of his professional career and has only produced a 6.49 strikeout per nine inning rate. There’s certainly room to improve and we’ll get going on that next time.