The Journey of Dane De La Rosa

de la rosa

Tommy Rancel is a writer for ESPN Sweetspot Network and He has also written for Bloomberg Sports, FanGraphs, and ESPN Florida. You can follow him on Twitter @TRancel.

This winter, the Los Angeles Angels signed relief pitcher Ryan Madson with hopes that the recovering Tommy John surgery patient would help solidify the back-end of their bullpen. After multiple setbacks in his recovery, the 32-year-old right-hander was released earlier this month without throwing a pitch at the major-league level for the club. That is how a lot of things have gone for the Angels this season.

Some say that out of adversity comes opportunity. For Los Angeles, adversity has led to more heart ache than anything else. Meanwhile, the struggles and hard times have afforded some the chance to carve out a role with the Angels that may last past a lost 2013 season.

Angels’ reliever Dane De La Rosa knows adversity. In a non-descript spring-training trade, Los Angeles acquired the 30-year-old journeyman reliever from the Tampa Bay Rays. Journeyman is not just a clever way to describe De La Rosa’s ilk. It is who he is. But throughout it all “The Dude” as he is named on Twitter has remained calmed and “chill” – a term often referenced on his social media accounts.

De La Rosa was drafted in the 24th round of the 2002 draft by the New York Yankees. He was released and pitching in independent ball by 2005. In 2006, he found himself out of the game all together and slinging houses on the real estate market instead of fastballs. The Milwaukee Brewers gave him a brief shot in 2007, but he was soon back on the indy scene where he stayed until 2010. The Rays signed him, and saw enough that they added him to the 40-man roster after the season. Despite the taking the road less traveled, he made his major-league debut in 2011 and threw in a handful of big league games in 2012 as well.

Blessed with a big frame (six-foot-seven, 245 pounds) and a big arm, De La Rosa, despite making it to the show, still had some issues to overcome; most notably control and command. In pitching-rich Rays’ organization, this was a problem as he was passed on the depth chart by younger, more talented arms or veterans able to help a contender immediately. He was squeezed out of his 40-man spot in winter which ultimately led to him back to his native Southern California.

For the third straight season De La Rosa began the season at the Triple-A level. This time, however, his stay would be brief. An early season injury to Jered Weaver led to a roster shuffle within the organization and landed the righty in the Angels bullpen. With no promises of tenure, things finally started to click. De La Rosa started throwing more strikes, missing more bats, and using his size to help generate groundball outs and mistimed swings.

Pitching for the team located less than an hour away from his birthplace of Torrance, Ca. De La Rosa has made 60 appearances for the Angels. He has a respectable 3.45 ERA while holding opponents to a .230 average and OPS around .600. He has 53 strikeouts to 21 unintentional walks and allowed just eight extra-base hits to the 245 batters he has faced.

De La Rosa comes equipped with a hard mid-90s fastball, a slurvy breaking ball, and a decent changeup used to change the pace. He is using the heater to get ahead in counts whether it be by called strike, whiff, or foul ball. Once he jumps in front, he can use his secondary options to entice hitters to expand the zone or at least prepare for them which causes late reaction on the fastball.

Madson’s injury along with an inconsistent performance by Ernesto Frieri opened the door to the back-end of the Angels bullpen. In walked De La Rosa. His journey came full circle on Tuesday night on the mound at Tropicana Field against the organization that gave him his first shot at the major leagues. Following a two-run rally in the top half of the inning, Angels’ manager Mike Scioscia called upon De La Rosa to close out the one-run game in the bottom of the ninth. He worked around a lead-off walk to pitch a scoreless frame, earning his second save of the season. After the game the nomad reliever said a big reason for his success this season – aside from the improved performance – is a sense of belonging. In his words he reached a pivotal point in Joe Maddon’s stages of the major league career.

“Joe used to talk about the levels of being a big leaguer” De La Rosa said. “I think right now I’m at that last level, which is just knowing that I should be up here and building on each outing as a big leaguer.”

So there he was. The well-traveled So-Cal kid saving the game for his home team against his former “home” team. It is likely that he was a ball of nerves under the surface, but on the mound every thing was chill. And that is just how De La Rosa likes it.