I’m going to be honest here: this is really more about having the chance to talk about Pat Hentgen, the pitcher, rather than the news about Toronto Blue Jays naming him the team’s new bullpen coach in 2013.
First things first, though: Hentgen was named to the vacant position today, taking over bullpen duties for Pete Walker, who was named the new pitching coach during the Blue Jays’ coaching reshuffle a couple of weeks ago by manager John Gibbons.
It’s a role that Hentgen has familiarity with, as he spent 2011 doing that job with Toronto; and of course, there’s the Gibbons connection at play as well, as Hentgen pitched his final big-league season in 2004 with the Blue Jays under Gibbons’ management. So, it’s not entirely a surprise that the former player-manager partnership would be renewed here in a different capacity.
That 2004 season for Hentgen was not a memorable one – it was his second stint with the Blue Jays, and the then-35 year old righty did not put up close to the type of numbers that he had done during his prime. He walked more batters than he struck out, and closed his career with an ugly 6.95 ERA and 1.64 WHIP over 80.2 innings.
Not exactly what you’d call going out in style, but I doubt it’s something that lingers in the memory of many Blue Jays fans – it’s his time with the team through the 90’s that folks will remember. Hentgen was a part of both the championship teams in ’92 and ’93, although you could say that he really began to establish himself as a innings-eating horse in the latter of those seasons.
By innings-eating horse, I really mean it too: during his prime, Hentgen threw two straight 260+ inning seasons for the Blue Jays, including that Cy Young-winning ’96 that he’s probably most well known for. Sure, the 3.68 ERA and 1.25 WHIP might not look incredibly impressive by today’s standards; but considering that Andy Pettite, the runner-up that year, pitched “only” 221 innings, and had just a pair of complete games to Hentgen’s league-leading 10, it’s easy to see why the Blue Jays hurler was the better man.
Unfortunately, his best seasons (’96 and ’97) were spent on sub-par teams that finished near or at the bottom of the division, and by the time he’d left the team in 2000, all those innings were starting to catch up to him, and he was able to pitch a full season only twice in his final five years.
That said, that he’s still largely remembered fondly in Toronto today should tell you what you need to know about his importance to the franchise. For Hentgen, pitching success was never about having the best stuff, but knowing how best to use it – something that he’ll continue to impart on the high-upside bullpen that the Blue Jays have put together for 2013.