SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Marc Rzepczynski was ready for the question.
“I figured this was going to come up,” he said when approached in the D-backs clubhouse on Thursday morning.
The veteran left-hander has made a career out of being a left-handed specialist, though that’s not something he has used as a label for himself. And with the rule change scheduled for 2020 that would mandate relievers face a minimum of three batters or end an inning, the "LOOGY" (left-handed one-out guy) as they’re known, could be phased out of the game.
“It already was a dying breed with super relievers and stuff like that, but it could affect jobs,” Rzepczynski said. “I know there’s a small amount of us, but we still want to keep playing and it would suck if it affects us.”
Like many of his ilk, Rzepczynski didn’t begin his career as a left-handed specialist.
Selected by the Blue Jays in the fifth round of the 2007 Draft, he was a starter coming up in the Toronto system and he started 23 of his 25 appearances with Toronto over his first two big league seasons. On Oct. 3, 2010, however, he made his final start. Beginning the following season, he became strictly a reliever and that eventually morphed into him mostly facing left-handers.
“My first year relieving -- I know it was a long time ago -- but I did everything,” Rzepczynski said. “I threw 63 or 65 innings, in the playoffs I faced left-handers and right-handers. Then I got really good at getting left-handed hitters out and it just became the nature of the beast.”
Left-handed relievers became valuable as specialists, often being called on to face a team’s toughest left-handed batter in crucial late-inning situations.
“Two years ago, I threw [31 1/3 innings] in 64 games, which is the equivalent of facing one hitter, maybe sometimes two,” Rzepczynski said.
It’s not as if he can’t get righties out, though. Over his career they’ve hit him at a .280 clip while lefties have hit just .227.
But having faced mainly lefties in recent years, he’s relied primarily on his fastball and slider. Yet if he’s going to be seeing more righties, he’ll want to get his changeup going as well.
In addition, he’ll have to be able to throw the ball in on righties a little bit more consistently to keep them from leaning out over the plate for his changeup or fastball away.
Rzepczynski, 33, has pitched well this spring for the D-backs and has a good chance of making the Opening Day roster. What next year will hold though -- with the left-handed specialist possibly gone and the game trending younger -- is a concern.
“Obviously, in my role, I’ve been thinking about that,” Rzepczynski said. “I’m going to be honest -- it could affect my job next year. Guys in my role that they don’t see being able to face right-handers as successful as left-handers, it could cost jobs. Me being a little bit older, it’s going to question a lot of things if it does come into play. I hate saying it like that, but I’m going to be honest because whether or not I think I can get anybody else out, it’s going to be the team’s opinion."