Stephen Fife reached his dream of making the big leagues in 2012. Now that he's gotten a taste, he's determined to make it back, no matter how many starting pitchers might be ahead of him on the depth chart.
"You kind of wonder until you make it there if you are going to make it," Fife said. "Once I went up, I wouldn't say my whole game changed, but you finally accomplished your goal and you know you can do it."
Early in 2012 though, Fife was struggling with Triple-A Albuquerque. Through 10 starts he was 3-4 with a gaudy 6.06 ERA. He had 25 walks in his first 52 innings, including eight in one start. Fife had just 18 walks in his final 83⅓ innings for the Isotopes, with a 3.78 ERA.
"The biggest improvement for Stephen if you look at numbers and his maturity, was command of the strike zone. He struggled with his command in the first month, six weeks of the season," said Albuquerque manager Lorenzo Bundy. "After that he started locating his pitches, and was able to throw all three of his pitches - his fastball, breaking ball, and change up - for strikes."
Fife credits Josh Bard for helping him turn things around after a poor start. Bard caught his first four starts of the year in Albuquerque, and caught his side sessions after that. Bard is now a special assistant to general manager Ned Colletti.
"My progress came with Bard catching my sides," Fife said. "We came together and got on the same page, and that's when I went from an awful start to progressing quickly and maintaining it.
After putting up a 2.70 ERA in five starts for the Dodgers in three big league stints last year, never allowing more than two runs in a start, Fife has put up a 3.45 ERA in 15⅔ Cactus League innings, with 12 strikeouts and just two walks. People are beginning to take notice.
"Has anybody come any farther than Stephen Fife in the last year? From spring training last year to spring training this year, what a difference," said manager Don Mattingly. "That's fun to watch too, to see a guy who gets after it every day."
Of course, there is the simple matter of the Dodgers having eight starting pitchers under contract, putting Fife currently no higher than ninth on the starting depth chart. But considering he was one of nine pitchers to start at least five games for the Dodgers in 2012, Fife knows there is a good chance he could be back in the major leagues soon enough.
"They told me don't count yourself out, that type of thing, but there are eight guys ahead of me making a lot of money. Last year there were six or seven guys ahead of me last year and I didn't really know what was going to happen but I got my chance and it happened to be in July," Fife said. "I'm just trying to prove that I can continue to pitch and be consistent, and if the opportunity arises hopefully I can produce successfully.
"There's not a day that goes by that I don't watch one of these guys work. Whether it's what they do in the weight room, or what they do in their sides, or between starts, I talk to all of them as much as I can. I just listen to what they're saying to other guys or amongst themselves about what they do to prepare and how they get going. I absolutely glean from guys who have done it for a lot of innings, sitting in that room over there."
Bundy credits Fife's attitude and perseverance for helping him succeed.
"Stephen doesn't have overpowering stuff but he was able to go out and not change his game once he got to the big leagues. He went up and gave the Dodgers some quality starts," Bundy said. "He's not going to light up the radar gun, but he knows how to pitch."
But apparently Fife has been lighting up the gun, as Mattingly told reporters after the game in Tucson Thursday, "Last time he hit 96, 95 mph. We're seeing velocity we didn't see before."
That's one way to keep yourself on radar.
Fife pitched two seasons for the University of Utah (2007-2008), and is one of three major league pitchers to come from the school. John Noriega pitched from 1969 to 1970 with the Reds and like Fife has no major league wins. Bill Parsons won 29 games with the Brewers and A's from 1971-1974.
Fife has 34 days of service time, and two more option years remaining.
Previous player profiles
2012: No subtitle necessary
|2013 Projections - Age 26 Season|
No matter how hard teams try to plan, it seems inevitable that nine or 10 starters will be used. I think Fife ends up starting five more games for the Dodgers in 2013, and puts up a 4.03 ERA in 29 innings, with 23 strikeouts.
Be sure to guess how you think Fife will do in 2013. Include ERA, number of starts, and whatever else you wish to guess.