Pitcher's return was 'long time coming'

April 29th, 2023

This story was excerpted from Martín Gallegos’ A’s Beat newsletter. To read the full newsletter, click here. And subscribe to get it regularly in your inbox.

OAKLAND -- Taking the mound to pitch in a Major League game is an opportunity  was not sure would come around again.

After bouncing around in the Angels, Cubs, Twins and Marlins organizations from 2014-18, Rucinski’s only option to keep his baseball dream alive came overseas in Korea. Spending the last four years pitching for the NC Dinos of the KBO, he made 121 starts and racked up 732 2/3 innings, going 53-36 with a 3.06 ERA and 657 strikeouts. Signing a one-year deal with the A’s this offseason, Rucinski made his season debut as Oakland’s starting pitcher on Friday night, which marked his first Major League appearance since Sept. 29, 2018.

“It felt like it’s been a long time coming,” Rucinski said after the A’s 11-7 loss to the Reds. “It was exciting to just get back out there and get back into a real game. Just go out there and do what I do.”

Rucinski displayed some of the qualities that intrigued the A’s by pitching to contact and inducing 11 ground-ball outs, though a few defensive miscues behind him hindered his effectiveness. The 34-year-old right-hander finished the night allowing five runs (three earned) on 11 hits and a walk with a strikeout. 

The final line was secondary, though. Beyond the five-year drought of big league action, Rucinski was making only his second Major League start. His first start came way back on April 14, 2015, as a member of the Angels at Globe Life Park in Arlington, Texas.

In going eight years between Major League starts, Rucinski joined baseball royalty. The last A’s pitcher to make a start who had not started in the Majors over at least the previous eight years? Hall of Famer Satchel Paige, whose start for the Kansas City A’s on Sept. 26, 1965, came 12 years after his previous start in 1953 for the St. Louis Browns.

“That is a pretty crazy stat,” Rucinski said of the historic feat. “I didn’t know that. That’s pretty wild. Baseball is a crazy sport. That’s all I can put that up to. You never know what’s going to happen.”

It has been quite the unorthodox professional baseball career for Rucinski. Originally signed by Cleveland in 2011 as an undrafted free agent out of Ohio State University, he was released in '12 and hit the independent circuit for two years by playing for the Rockford RiverHawks of the Frontier League. Signed by the Angels in '13, Rucinski received his first call to the big leagues in ‘14 but was designated for assignment after just three appearances.

“I’m super fortunate to still be out here getting to play,” Rucinski said. “I don’t take any day for granted. Every day, I’m appreciative of being here and putting the hard work in to be the best that I can.”

As significant as this start was for his baseball journey, Rucinski views it as only a small chapter. Next is the comeback story, which he’ll get a chance to continue writing as a member of the A’s starting rotation going forward in 2023.

“It’s just a stepping stone to getting to where I want to be,” Rucinski said. “Hopefully, stuff just keeps picking up -- sharpness and velocity. I feel like I can get outs, and I just want to keep doing that and get better at it.”