It’s a small world, baseball. When Eddie Gamboa was called up to the big leagues for the first time, it was April 11th, 2015. He got the call because Wesley Wright was being placed on the disabled list. The two now sit diagonally across the room from one another in the Rangers’ clubhouse in Surprise, Arizona. And though Gamboa didn’t get actually get into a game with the Orioles that year (he made his debut the following season with Tampa Bay), and though Wright was released later that year (he has since spent time in the Anaheim and Boston organizations), the two careers are once again influenced by each others’ orbits. More on that later.
Gamboa talks about his knuckleball with the level of c’est la vie fondness that most who have gone before him seem to have. You do not, some might say, choose the knuckleball: it chooses you. In a game where “average” fastball velocity keeps creeping higher and higher into the mid-90s, it takes a special fortitude to say “Here it is at 70, do your worst.”
Of course, 70 isn’t the only speed he has. He also throws a fastball in the high 80s and a cutter, just to keep hitters on their toes. But the knuckleballs (plural, because he says he throws three: a slow, a medium, and a fast) are his “bread and butter”,
If that is the case, the cinnamon and sugar come afterwards: if and when batters reach base against Gamboa, the battle has only just begun. His pickoff move has made toast of 2 of the 17 men to reach base against him in the major leagues. He picked off two more in his first Cactus League appearance with the Rangers.
“It’s something I’ve always taken pride in,” Gamboa admits. “My Father used to, when he’d come home from work, he’d make me work on that in the backyard.” He smiles “I cried a couple times, we worked so hard on it.”
Gamboa pitched well Sunday against the Mariners. Despite two unearned runs in the first inning, he was able to make it through five innings, striking out six, and walking just one (though he did hit one batter). In the wake of Chi Chi Gonzalez’ UCL injury and Nick Martinez’ struggles, Gamboa’s name is not yet out of contention for a spot in the rotation.
But A.J. Griffin has pitched well, and Mike Hauschild and Dillon Gee each are likely ahead of Gamboa in the competition.
So we circle back to Wesley Wright. And, for that matter, Dario Alvarez.
With Jake Diekman out for half the season, the Rangers have been considering Wright and Alvarez for a place in the bullpen. But adding either of them to the roster could mean that the Rangers are without a swingman / long reliever.
Is it possible that Jeff Banister and Jon Daniels could decide that Gamboa’s knuckleball-slinging arm’s ability to avoid wear and tear is more valuable out of the pen than a lefty?
A baseball career is not unlike a knuckleball, sometimes seeming to have a straight course plotted before darting sideways, floating up, or diving into the dirt. For now, there are still dozens of players in the big-league clubhouse in Surprise. Gamboa is still one of them, and for that matter, so is Wesley Wright. Many of the players will be teammates in Arlington this year. Others will spend varying amounts of time in the various Rangers minor league teams. Others yet will be released or elect free agency, bouncing around until they again land across from one another in some other clubhouse somewhere in America.
It’s a small world, baseball.
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