Impact Index: Getting Eveland

Fans of the Toronto Blue Jays who frequent these parts know all too well about Dana Eveland. The soft-tossing lefty started nine games for the Jays in 2010, winning three, losing four, and posting an unimpressive 6.45 ERA. It was so unimpressive that the Jays designated Eveland for assignment and then traded him to the Pittsburgh Pirates. Jays fans, among others, likely lost interest in Eveland’s career after his short stint north of the border.

I’ll catch you up; it won’t take long.

Eveland pitched in three games for the Pirates, who then designated him for assignment. Two DFAs in one season — including one from the Pittsburgh Pirates — is enough to make a guy think it might be time to hang up the cleats. But Eveland kept on plugging, landing with the Dodgers organization in 2011. He pitched most of the season in Triple-A for the Albuquerque Isotopes, starting twenty-five games. His 4.38 ERA was an improvement over his performance in Toronto, as was his 6.25 strikeouts per nine innings. His teammates voted him Isotopes Pitcher of the Year.

When rosters expanded in September, the Dodgers recalled Eveland from Triple-A. He started five games for the boys in blue, going 3-and-2 with a 3.03 ERA. His strikeout rate declined, but so did his walk rate, to a career low of 1.82 walks per nine innings. Apparently, that wasn’t enough for the Dodgers, who shipped Eveland off to the Baltimore Orioles in December in exchange for a minor-league pitcher and outfielder.

The Orioles? That team that eats up and spits out pitchers? Not a good omen for Dana Eveland, pitcher.

But a funny thing happened on the way to the second month of the 2012 baseball season. The Orioles lead the American League East with a record of 27-15. They’ve played eight extra-inning games out of 42, and while they’ve gone 6-2 in those games, that’s a lot of extra work for the bullpen. The starting rotation’s also been hampered by injuries to Jason Hammel and Tommy Hunter. And so on May 11, the Orioles recalled Eveland from Triple-A and asked him to make a spot start against the Tampa Bay Rays. He went six innings, allowing five hits, six walks and three runs. He left with the Rays leading 3-2, but the Orioles rallied to win the game 4-3.

With reliever Matt Lindstrom on the disabled list, the Orioles kept Eveland after his spot start, sending him to the bullpen. On Wednesday, in one of the Orioles’ eight extra-inning affairs, Eveland came out of the bullpen and to the rescue, pitching three scoreless innings in the team’s eventual 4-3 victory over the Kansas City Royals in fifteen innings.

In the game, the Royals led 3-1 heading to the top of the ninth. Kansas City’s closer, Jonathan Broxton, took the mound trying to secure the save. He didn’t. The Orioles scored two in the ninth off Wilson Betemit’s solo home run and singles from Chris Davis, Xavier Avery, and J.J. Hardy. And then the scoring stopped. For a long time. Leading to this game graph:

Source: FanGraphs

See the boring part in innings 10-12? That’s when Eveland pitched. One hit, no walks, no runs in three innings of work. Adam Jones eventually hit a solo home run in the top of the 15th inning. Orioles closer Jim Johnson pitched a scoreless bottom of the 15th and the Orioles escaped with a 4-3 victory.

With that performance, Eveland’s been tapped as the Orioles’ long reliever. It’s not sexy stuff, but Eveland’s career is long past sexy. But he’s pitching for a team in first place in its division in late May, something Eveland hasn’t experienced since his 2007 season with the Arizona Diamondbacks.

Good for comeback stories. Good for starters-turned-relievers. And good for Dana Eveland, our Impact Index Player of the Week.