In the midst of the worst stretch of on-field play that the Bowling Green Hot Rods have seen in their franchise history (spanning three cities and two states and affiliations), there was some good news surrounding the club this past weekend, as it was announced that former pitcher and member of both the 2010 and 2011 Hot Rods squads was getting a call up to the show : C.J Riefenhauser.
Riefenhauser became the seventh player who spent time in Bowling Green to make an MLB roster, joining the likes of Matt Moore, Derek Dietrich and Enny Romero. (Dietrich, of course, is the only one to do so who is no longer in the Tampa Bay organization.)
Over his two years in Bowling Green, neither of them full seasons, Riefenhauser went 7-5 with a 2.45 ERA in just over 101 innings pitched. He only made two appearances in 2010, but was a staple on the 2011 staff, making 18 starts and going 6-5 with a 2.31 ERA, striking out 99 while walking just 25.
Riefenhauser was drafted by the Rays in the 20th round, and has exceeded expectations ever since he began pitching in the organization. Before being called up this year, scouts noted his arsenal of a good fastball and an excellent slider, and the way they speak of it, it seems the latter pitch is his out. Riefenhauser has no trouble at all against southpaws, and is continuously working on his changeup, which has good fade to it. The Rays love his work ethic, and have taken their time with C.J. as they hope to make him a big piece of their bullpen
That hard work and patience paid off this weekend, as Riefenhauser made his MLB debut against the New York Yankees, coming in in the top of the 7th of Saturday’s game, when the Rays were well ahead 14-1, and pitched 1.1 of scoreless baseball, getting a groundout to end the seventh, and then three fly balls to the outfield to retire the Bronx Bombers in order in the eighth.
While Riefenhauser’s debut came in a wide-open game, Joe Maddon trusted C.J. enough to come in with a time ballgame in the top of the 12th inning, but lost a battle with Dean Anna, going down and away on a payoff pitch that Anna checked his swing at, but was able to hold up (at least, that’s what third base umpire Marty Foster said) to score Brett Gardner as the go-ahead run. After the game, Riefenhauser was optioned back to Durham, but it says a lot that the Rays were willing to give him a chance in that spot and he could be back before long.
Often times, minor league teams are seen as stepping stones for players, coaches, and even fans who live in the big club’s city. But for the people of a small Kentucky town, C.J. Riefenhauser is a source of pride, and they love seeing that another former Hot Rod is getting his time on the big stage.