PHOENIX — Joe Thatcher set a school record for 3-point shooting in high school, which goes a long way toward explaining his success as a major league reliever. The theory is the same, whether it is putting a ball in a basket or putting a smaller ball on the outside corner.
“It’s all about repetition and having the confidence that when the ball leaves your hand, it is going to go where you want,” Thatcher said.
David Ortiz knew where it was going last week: under his bat. Thatcher gave a textbook demonstration in his first weekend with the D-backs, when he did not give up a hit to any the eight batters he faced and got Oritz three times, on two popouts and a strikeout. He pitched in all three games against the Red Sox.
The D-backs acquired Thatcher from the Padres in the Ian Kennedy trade to do exactly that sort of thing. After a circuitous route that included four years at Indiana State and parts of two with the independent River City Rascals, Thatcher has made that role his own.
“I enjoy coming in in big spots,” Thatcher said. “Not a lot of time to get acclimated to the game, but you are in the fire right away. For me, that’s fun. I like coming to the ballpark every day knowing there is a chance I can play. I take pride in the fact that I can be available every day.”
Thatcher faced eight hitters in Boston and retired six while walking two. He fits into a bullpen as a weapon to contend with Adrian Gonzalez and Carlos Gonzalez, among others. Thatcher has limited left-handed hitters to a .206 batting average and one extra-base hit in 68 at-bats this season and a .207 batting average in a career that started in when he was obtained by San Diego from Milwaukee in 2007.
“We’ve faced him a long time,” D-backs manager Kirk Gibson said. “He’s kind of polished up. He understands his stuff now. Understands how to use it against certain players. That’s a no-fun matchup.”
Thatcher is 8-11 with a save and a 3.14 ERA in 290 career appearances. He has 212 strikeouts in 200 1/3 innings.
He was undrafted out of Indiana State after playing baseball and basketball at Kokomo (Ind.) High. Undeterred, too.
“First of all, I love the game of baseball. Second of all, I felt like that wasn’t my ceiling. I felt like I could pitch at another level. I didn’t know what that level would be. For whatever reason, the scouts didn’t think the way I did. It was kind of a chip on my shoulder. I got to playing independent ball and realized I could do more,” Thatcher said.
Thatcher, 31, played the summer after his senior year for River City, located in a suburb of St. Louis, and started the 2005 season there before being signed in July by Milwaukee. The Brewers traded him to the Padres for Scott Linebrink at the 2007 trade deadline.
“Once I got signed by Milwaukee, being an older guy with no money invested, I had one shot. I knew that,” Thatcher said.
It was all he needed. He played at five minor league levels in two-plus years in the Brewers organization and was in the big leagues by 2007.
“It’s a long journey from independent ball, but I wouldn’t change that journey for anything,” Thatcher said.