Stevie Wilkerson couldn’t come up with a new nickname after making his pitching debut last night. He was open to suggestions.
“Stevie Slider” wouldn’t work because he doesn’t have one in his limited arsenal.
The super-utility player might settle on “Stevie Strike-thrower.” No one can argue that it doesn’t fit after he located the zone on seven of his 10 pitches in the ninth inning of a 16-4 loss.
Wilkerson became the fourth position player to toe the rubber this season and the 31st Oriole to be used as a pitcher, setting a new club record. As is always the case, the move was born out of desperation - especially with a doubleheader looming today.
Field coordinator Tim Cossins sought out volunteers in the eighth inning and he approached Wilkerson, who never has been accused of lacking in confidence.
“He was like, ‘You ever pitch before?’ I was like, ‘No, but I can,’” Wilkerson said, flashing the familiar grin.
“He was like, “All right, I’ll get back to you. Get loose just in case.’”
“That sounds good,” Wilkerson replied.
“That was my first pitching outing since, I think I threw one pitch my senior year of high school and got a ground ball, so that was the first time in about, what, 10 years?”
Wilkerson has become a fly-ball pitcher, with outfielders involved in all three outs as he retired the side in order. Tommy Pham and Kevin Kiermaier took him to left field and Keon Broxton ran down Yandy Díaz’s liner in right-center.
There’s no residual soreness today and Wilkerson said he’s available. He joked that he’ll be in the bullpen.
To truly appreciate Wilkerson’s outing is to ask him about it the following day.
What was his plan of attack?
“I just really wanted to establish my fastball,” he said as laughter built around him.
“Just kidding. Just trying to throw some strikes.”
What exactly was Wilkerson throwing?
“Poo poo,” he replied. “Sixty-seven-mile-an-hour floaters. But they were over the plate, to give myself a little bit of credit. So yeah, I was just trying to throw strikes and not make too much of a mockery out of it.
“Actually, I was a little nervous, to be honest. Once I went out there I was fine, but at first I was a little nervous. It’s definitely a different feeling, especially when you haven’t stepped on the mound in 10-12 years. But it’s one for the memory bank, for sure.”
Wilkerson has played all three outfield positions along with third base, second base and shortstop in the majors, and first base in the minors. He’s also viewed as an emergency catcher, working out at the position in extended spring training.
He never joked about wanting to be a pitcher. It just came to him.
“I think a lot of guys want to get up there and see how hard they can throw and make a little game out of that,” he said. “I guess I haven’t been one of those guys.”
The Orioles would prefer that it doesn’t happen again, but they were in danger again of blowing up their bullpen. Relievers won’t be put at risk.
“It helps the club to eat an inning, especially when we have a doubleheader today,” Wilkerson said. “Just going out there and being able to do that to help the club today and get us through last night without having too painful of a ninth inning there, I think it’s helpful.”
Finding a nickname is a work in progress.
“I’ll get back to you,” he said.
For the Rays
Austin Meadows RF
Tommy Pham LF
Kevin Kiermaier CF
Yandy Díaz 3B
Nate Lowe 1B
Michael Brosseau 2B
Ji-Man Choi DH
Joey Wendle SS
Mike Zunino C
Brendan McKay LHP
Update: Jimmy Yacabonis replaced Brooks with two outs in the third inning and Mike Zunino homered to give Tampa Bay a 1-0 lead.
Update II: Wilkerson hit a two-run homer off Colin Poche in the seventh to give the Orioles a 2-1 lead.