'Crazy whirlwind' carries Enns back to bigs

August 4th, 2021

ST. PETERSBURG -- Last May, the Mariners released , leaving him without a job in baseball during an uncertain year for everyone in the sport. He enrolled in online classes at Northeastern University, carrying over credits from Central Michigan University and pursuing a degree in business management.

Enns still wanted to play baseball, considering winter ball as a possibility, but wondered if it might be time to move on and support his family. His wife, Julie Anne, encouraged him to keep pitching. That led the left-hander on a journey from independent ball in Joliet, Ill., to the Rays’ alternate training site in Port Charlotte, Fla., to a dominant stretch with Triple-A Durham and, finally, to Tropicana Field.

A year after he was pitching and coaching for the independent Tully Monsters, Enns had his contract selected by the Rays and joined their bullpen Tuesday night against the Mariners.

“There was a time in June last summer when I didn't have a job in baseball and was going back to school and didn't know what the future of my baseball career was going to be,” Enns said Tuesday afternoon. “Luckily, my wife was really supportive of me to stay on board and keep sticking with it. Went to play indy ball, and it's been a crazy whirlwind since then.”

This was not Enns’ first call to the Majors. He debuted with the Twins on Aug. 10, 2017, only to go down with an injury in his second start. He went from the Twins' organization to the Padres to the Mariners over the last three years, overhauling his mechanics and becoming “a totally different pitcher,” he said, only to be cut loose two months after Spring Training was shut down due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The day he debuted for Minnesota, he hardly expected it’d be four years before he was back in the big leagues.

“I thought I'd go up and hoped to stay, but you never know what baseball's going to do in life,” Enns said. “It's kind of been an up-and-down journey, but [I'm] happy to be healthy and throwing well and just to be back here.”

It was a remarkable journey, one that included a stop in independent ball in Joliet, about 15 miles from Enns’ hometown of Frankfort, Ill. He served as the staff’s ace and pitching coach under manager Scott Spiezio, a former big leaguer. He was able to see his family every day, living with his parents in his old room, and he kept pitching, hoping all the while he’d catch a team’s attention but uncertain if there’d be an opportunity.

But it finally came when Kevin Ibach, the Rays’ senior director of pro personnel and pro scouting, saw Enns pitch in person. Tampa Bay’s front office was on the lookout for a left-hander who could pitch multiple innings and serve as depth at the club’s alternate site, and Enns fit the bill. A day or two after meeting Ibach and hearing of the Rays’ interest, Enns was on a plane heading to Port Charlotte for a physical before signing his Minor League deal.

“It was a blessing in disguise to go to indy ball,” Enns said. “And really, a lot of good things came from it since then.”

Enns impressed Rays officials at the alternate site and during two stints on the club’s taxi squad last season, then continued to do so this year. In 14 outings for Triple-A Durham, the 30-year-old lefty went 6-2 with a 2.44 ERA, 75 strikeouts and only 15 walks in 59 innings.

His dominance in Triple-A was impossible to ignore. Even before knowing the Rays would need to make a roster move Monday night, manager Kevin Cash said he and pitching coach Kyle Snyder were discussing Enns and “how valuable he could be.” On Tuesday, Tampa Bay optioned right-hander Chris Mazza to Durham, transferred reliever Ryan Thompson to the 60-day injured list and added Enns to the bullpen as a multi-inning option.

“Dietrich's done a really good job in Triple-A. He did a really good job last year when we picked him up,” Cash said. “All he's done is made progress.”

When Durham manager Brady Williams called Enns with news of his promotion around 11 p.m. ET Monday, Enns and his wife called their parents. Four years ago, Julie Anne couldn’t get off work to see his MLB debut. On Tuesday morning, they boarded a flight together for Enns’ long-awaited second chance in The Show.

“She never got to see me pitch in the big leagues at the time, so she said she was going to come down,” Enns said, “and she wasn't taking no for an answer.”

Worth noting
• All-Star infielder was named the Rays’ recipient of the 2021 Heart and Hustle Award by the Major League Baseball Players Alumni Association. The overall winner will be announced in mid-November. The award, which Wendle previously received in 2018, is given annually to one player on each team who demonstrates a passion for the game and best embodies the values, spirit and traditions of the game.

Wendle said receiving the award is a “huge honor” and that it represents the kind of player he has always strived to be.

“I remember my dad telling me that when I was 5 years old: Those are the two things that you can control, the attitude that you have and the effort that you give every day,” Wendle said.

• Right-hander Taj Bradley, the Rays’ No. 17 prospect according to MLB Pipeline, was promoted Tuesday from Low-A Charleston to High-A Bowling Green. A fifth-round pick in the 2018 Draft, Bradley has broken out this season with a 9-3 record, 1.76 ERA, 81 strikeouts and 20 walks in 66 2/3 innings over 15 outings for Charleston.