In the 8th inning of last night's game, Norfolk Tides right fielder Rhyne Hughes crushed a ball, yanking it foul, a monsterous fly ball that actually left the stadium. Most pitchers would take pause, realizing that had Hughes been able to wait an instant longer the pitch would have resulted in a long home run.
Gwinnett Braves pitcher Chris Resop only laughed. And why wouldn't he? He was pitching the game of his life.
Resop limited the Tides to just 1 hit while striking out 8, but, more impressively, he pitched a complete game shutout while facing the minimum. The one batter who reached base, the very same Hughes on a soft single to right field, was erased immediately on an unusual double play. Norfolk's Brandon Snyder hit a ball into the right center field gap that looked like a sure hit, but Gwinnett right fielder Mitch Jones made one of several outstanding plays, diving for the ball and recording the out. Hughes likely would have been further around second base if Gwinnett second baseman Joe Thurston hadn't successfully bluffed him by pretending to have the ball. As Hughes made his way back to first, Thurston made up for his unintentional error, intercepting the throw from Jones to first base, tossing it to first baseman Freddie Freeman just in time to get Hughes for the inning's final out.
Aside from stellar defensive plays by Jones, Freeman, and third baseman Wes Timmons, that was all the action there was from the Norfolk offense, as Resop utilized all his pitches to outduel Tim Bascom, who was making his AAA debut. Resop's offense supplied him with just enough, as Freddie Freeman collected 2 sacrifice fly RBIs, and 3 Norfolk errors helped seal the victory. When asked after the game if that was his best performance ever, Resop didn't hesitate: "Yes, absolutely. That was fun. Definitely the best game I've ever pitched."
More after the jump:2010 has been a lot of fun for Resop as he's been an entirely different pitcher. When the Braves signed him as a Minor League free agent in the offseason, few thought the move would turn out to be worthwhile in any way, and there was plenty of reason for their skepticism. In 61 Major League innings between 2005 and 2008, Resop had some awful numbers, a 5.61 ERA and a 1.71 WHIP. This included a 5.89 ERA and a 1.42 WHIP in 18.2 innings for Atlanta in 2008, where he was known more for filling in as a left fielder for one batter than for his pitching. He'd never even had much success as a AAA pitcher and had spent the last year playing in Japan's Minor Leagues.
But through 13 starts this season for Gwinnett, the 6'3" 220 pound right hander has been spectacular, with a 5-2 record, a league leading 1.84 ERA and a 1.00 WHIP. He's striking out 9.9 batters per 9 innings, while collecting 3 strikeouts per walk and allowing just 5.6 hits per 9 innings. While most are baffled by his career turnaround, Resop has no doubt about why he's throwing so well; "Sure, a part of it is starting, but mostly it's learning how to pitch. I'm able to use all my pitches and get ahead in the count so I don't have to throw 100 every time."
Many pitchers will honestly tell you that they didn't really learn how to pitch until their late 20s, but the 27 year old Resop has a legitimate reason. He'd never thrown a baseball off a mound until he was 20 years old and already a professional. After 3 seasons as an outfielder in the Marlins chain, where he hit just .193, the team converted him into a pitcher, rushing him to the Majors just 2 years later after only 105 innings. Yes, he could regularly hit 100 miles per hour on the radar gun, but his secondary pitches were woeful and he had little to no gameplan on the mound, leading to his less than impressive numbers over the last few years.
But, with a newfound confidence in his stuff, "I'm willing to throw any pitch at any time," Resop has revitalized his career. Last night he threw his 4 seam fastball between 94 and 96, and was still hitting 94 in the 9th inning. That pitch, which was once considered flat as a board, has more life on it now that he's backed off of trying to throw it so hard, and it's even more effective when combined with his new 2 seam fast ball, which sits between 91 and 93 with a ton of movement. He's refined his breaking pitches, with his slurving curveball described by teammate Cory Gearrin as being "unhittable". Last night Resop threw the curve regularly between 79 and 81, the kind of differential off the fastball that can be devastating. He also managed to mix in a few mid 80s changeups and splitters, showing that he's no longer the one dimensional thrower he used to be.
The Braves might be more excited about Resop's transformation if it didn't come with a ticking clock. Last night was his final start fo Gwinnett, because one way or another he's going to be in the Major Leagues next week. When he signed his contract in the offseason, Resop was given a clause that guaranteed that the Braves would either call him up to the Majors by June 15th or they would have to make him available to every other team in baseball, who could select his contract without giving the Braves any kind of compensation. It's a typical clause for many veterans who sign Minor League contracts, Hank Blalock's similar situation led to his promotion to the Tampa Bay Rays, and Pat Burrell's subsequent release, but one that the Braves likely doubted would matter much.
Resop's pitching has certainly merited a promotion, but the Braves seem reluctant to bring him to Atlanta. Relievers Jonny Venters, Mike Dunn, Craig Kimbrel, and Christian Martinez have all been promoted to Atlanta this season, Kimbrel twice, all getting the call ahead of Resop. While these players have done well for the team, except Dunn who didn't even get to pitch, Jesse Chavez, who has been with Atlanta all season, has been ineffective. In 23.1 innings he's collected a 7.33 ERA and a 1.41 WHIP, making him a prime candidate to be sent out in favor of Resop. Chavez is out of options, but given his play there isn't much of a chance another team would want to claim him off waivers. It could be argued that Resop's success has come as a starter and a move back to the bullpen might hinder him, but given his new approach that line of thinking doesn't bear much weight.
The Braves 40 man roster currently sits at 39, with Luis Valdez, who is on the restricted list because of visa issues, and Diory Hernandez, who is on the 60 day disabled list with a leg injury, not counting toward the total, meaning the Braves don't have to remove anyone to add Resop. Why they wouldn't want a pitcher performing as Resop has is anyone's guess, but they will need to make a move one way or the other by Tuesday.
Resop is characteristically calm and diplomatic when asked if he'd prefer to stay with the Braves or move to another team; "I just want to play in the Majors." Given his performance this season at AAA, he certainly deserves that opportunity.