The St. Louis Cardinals hitting coach has been getting a ton of publicity this week.
I don’t know about you, but I already had a hunch that Mark McGwire had dabbled in steroids.
But here’s some news out of St. Louis that I hadn’t heard until Wednesday: The Cardinals have signed pitcher Charlie Zink to a minor league contract with an invitation to their major league spring training camp in Jupiter, FL.
(photo courtesy of Kelly O’Connor)
The 30-year-old knuckleballer had spent nearly his entire pro baseball career (except for four games in the Independent Western League) with the Red Sox organization, including parts of the last five years with Pawtucket.
“It’s a little nerve-wracking because I don’t know anything else,” Charlie told me the day after signing with St. Louis. “Spending eight years with the Red Sox has been amazing and they’ve given me a lot of opportunities, but I’m excited to go somewhere new and I’m really excited to work with (pitching coach) Dave Duncan. I know how good he is with pitchers and I’m hoping he can do the same thing with me. I hope he can make miracles happen with me, and I get to be around one of my childhood idols who is in the news these days – Mark McGwire. It should be interesting.”
Zink says he’s devoted himself to getting into peak physical condition this winter after his disappointing 2009 season with Pawtucket. After being named the International League Pitcher of the Year in 2008 (14-6, 2.84 ERA), Charlie led the I.L. in losses last season, going 6-15 with a 5.59 ERA.
“(Getting into better shape) has been my main priority,” Zink said. “Last year I was coming off a big year and I didn’t take it for granted because I still worked hard, but I didn’t work as hard. I’ve gone back to the mentality of having to prove something again. I knew I would get a shot somewhere – I didn’t know where it would be – but I knew whoever it was going to be with, that I needed to impress them and that’s what I plan on doing.”
The Cardinals currently have an opening for a fifth starter, and Zink hopes to be given an opportunity to win the job in Florida.
“They have a big payroll and they’re definitely willing to go out and buy pitching,” Zink told me. “But it looks like they’re looking to fill the fifth spot in their rotation and are open to the possibility of giving it to someone that doesn’t have a lot of major league experience.”
Charlie has pitched in one big league game – a start for the Red Sox in August of 2008 that has to go down as one of the strangest MLB debuts ever. Charlie was handed a 10-0 lead in the first inning on a pair of 3-run HR by David Ortiz and led 12-2 after four innings. But in the fifth, Texas scored eight runs off of Zink and a pair of Boston relievers and Charlie left the game before being eligible for the win. The Rangers eventually took a 15-14 lead in the sixth inning, before Boston rallied to pull out the game 19-17. The 36 combined runs tied the American League record.
Charlie was sent back to Pawtucket after the game, and has not returned to the majors since. He hopes that will change with his new employer.
“It’s going to be weird,” Zink told me. “Honestly, I wish I could have stayed in the Red Sox organization for my entire career. I would have loved to have been one of the guys who was lucky enough to do that. But it’s a business and only works out like that for very few people. I loved my time in Pawtucket and everybody was amazing to me. I wish I could have given them a better year last year, but that’s baseball.”