The hyphenated hurler

VIERA, Fla. - It was cutdown day at Space Coast Stadium today, as the Nationals cut down to 45 players in big league camp.

As opposed to NFL camps, there was no playbook to turn in, just a gear bag to pack and carry down the street to the minor league clubhouse. For most, maybe all, of those given the word today, it was not unexpected.

When I arrived at the ballpark today and walked through the clubhouse, some had already departed, but one young man was still wearing his No. 56 Nationals uniform, and not so upset he couldn’t look up and ask “How’s it going?” with a smile on his face, despite the fact that he’d never seen me before in his life.

Ladies and gentlemen, please greet pitcher Austin Bibens-Dirkx. And no, I’d never heard of him either. A right-hander who attended the University of Portland, he’s 6-foot-2 and 190 lbs.

Bibens-Dirkx is a native Oregonian who will be 27 next month. Originally the property of the Mariners, Bibens-Dirkx was drafted in the 16th round of the 2006 First-Year Player Draft. In six minor league seasons he’s compiled a 31-22 record and a 4.29 ERA in 176 games covering 515 2/3 innings of work.

Bibens-Dirkx - yes, he’s the only player of that surname to ever play professional baseball - spent three years in the Seattle system before being released. He signed with the Victoria Seals of the independent Golden Baseball League in 2009, and ended up back in organized baseball with the Cubs, where he reached Triple-A ball for 37 games.

The Nationals signed him this winter as a six-year minor league free agent, and gave him an invite to big league camp. Far be it for me to question why - Bibens-Dirkx went 6-7 with a 5.94 ERA in 2011 - I’m only sorry I didn’t get a chance to see him pitch before he got sent out.

It’s a small sample, to be sure, but in two road appearances this spring, Bibens-Dirkx pitched 2 1/3 innings, allowing two hits and a run, and striking out three. Not great, but not terrible, either.

At his age, Bibens-Dirkx surely knows his window of opportunity may be closing, insofar as having a major league career. That his zest for the game is still palpable speaks volumes. Maybe he’s inspired by the George Sherrill story, another ex-independent leaguer who went on to have a big league career, despite some less-than-stellar minor league numbers.

Bibens-Dirkx may never get another invite to big league camp, and I’m sure he savored every second of this one. Will he ever see his name in a regular season big league box score?

Other than I’m curious to see how it’s abbreviated, it would be a good story, at the very least.