Ondrusek bringing the heat

Ondrusek bringing the heat

Published May. 28, 2011 3:27 p.m. ET

If the federal government wants to make certain somebody is never found in its Witness Protection Program, all it need do is find the snitch a job as a middle relief baseball pitcher.

If the guy does his job, he’ll never be heard from again because when a middle relief pitcher does his job, nobody bothers him, especially not the media.

A perfect exhibit is Cincinnati Reds middle relief pitcher Logan Ondrusek. He is 6-foot-8, hard to miss, but he sits in a far corner of the clubhouse with the other relief pitchers, mostly ignored.

Most of the time before games he sits quietly at a table, fully engrossed in a cribbage game with a fellow relief pitcher and nobody bothers him.

To make it easier, Ondrusek is a quiet, soft-spoken introvert who barely mumbles a hello when somebody else says hello first.

His speaking is done on the pitching mound, where he has been practically perfect so far this season — 3-2, 1.86 ERA in 28 games (29 innings), giving up only 19 hits, six earned runs, 12 walks and 25 strikeouts.

To say he has been a major surprise this year is to deal in inaccuracies because during his rookie season last year he was 5-0 over 60 games with 3.64 ERA.

But nobody talks about him, and he doesn’t talk about himself, unless asked.

“That’s kind of how I am,” said the 26-year-old right-hander from Shiner, Texas. “I kind of keep to myself. I’m not shy and if I have to something to say, I’ll say it. But I like to keep in the background and take everything in. I’m not one to be out there talking all the time.”

And Ondrusek realizes that unless he messes up, which is rare, the media rarely seeks his inner thoughts, or outer thoughts.

“Exactly,” he said with a smile. “If they’re talking to me, something is going on and something is wrong. I just get a little pat on the back from the manager, coaches and players now and then, and I go about my business.”

Ondrusek was a 13th round draft pick in 2005 and signed a day or two after the draft before the Reds could change their mind. He was mostly a starter in the early going, including 22 starts at Class A Sarasota in 2007 without drawing much attention.

He was placed in the bullpen in 2008 in Sarasota with even less success — 1-7 with a 4.97 ERA, atrocious numbers for a relief pitcher.

In 2009, something clicked. He once again started in Class A and was 2-0 with a 0.96 ERA in 13 appearances, earning him a promotion to Class AA Carolina. He was barely there long enough to locate a good laundry, going 2-1 with a 1.65 ERA in 24 appearances. Another promotion ensued, to Class AAA Louisville, and his effectiveness followed him up the ladder — 0-0 with a 1.74 ERA and 12 saves in 19 appearances for the Bats.

Eyes popped open in the Reds front office, and he was given a hard look in the spring of 2010, a hard look that resulted in him making the Opening Day staff.

His belligerent demeanor on the field belies his off-the-field, laid-back appearance.

“On the field, I’m real aggressive,” he said. “I get a fire underneath me. It was hard to control that over multiple innings, and this way, for one or two innings, I can give it everything I have and go after guys. That has put me into this situation where I can thrive.

“I love doing what I’m doing and have been doing, and it is a matter of continuing to go out there and do it,” he said. “My job is to hold things down in the middle until we can get to the big guys like Aroldis Chapman, Nick Masset and Coco Cordero at the end.”

Big guys? Nobody is bigger — at least taller — than Ondrusek, who looks as if he should be popping short jumpers from the side as a No. 4 guy on the basketball court.

“I did play basketball in junior high and high school,” he said. “But I’ve always loved baseball. I’d play basketball in my backyard with my friends between baseball seasons and I still play, pick up a basketball and shoot around now and then. But baseball is my passion.”

But baseball was his calling, and he is thankful the Reds found him or he probably would be doing what most of the 2,000 people do in Shiner, Texas: work at the famous Shiner Bock beer brewery.

“That’s my favorite beer choice, too,” he said. “I grew up a mile-and-a-half from the brewery. A lot of the people from my town work there, and something always seems to be going on when you drive by it.”

Something always seems to be going on when Ondrusek takes the mound, usually things that are not good for opposing hitters.

“What I’m doing is the dream of every little kid who plays baseball, just play in the majors and wear a big league uniform,” he said. “I don’t care what it is, pitching is pitching — start, middle relief, set-up, closing. Some guys aren’t built for starting, maybe I wasn’t, and some guys thrive in other roles. That’s been me.”