Stars of the AFL: Casey Daigle

Casey Daigle had made it. The dream of every child, the dream of every minor leaguer, he was in the big leagues, pitching at (then) Bank One Ballpark. One year later Daigle's dream seemed to have turned into a nightmare. He found himself back in the minors, not even in the starting rotation anymore. As's coverage of the Arizona Fall League continues Daigle talks about how somehow this might have been a dream come true.

Casey Daigle can honestly say he's never played in the Arizona Fall League before.

He can also honestly say he's not eligible for the Rookie of the Year in the Major League.

That's because Casey Daigle spent a good portion of the 2004 season in the bigs, as a member of the Arizona Diamondbacks starting rotation. It wasn't the debut Daigle hoped for, he went just 2-3 in 10 starts and carried an ugly ERA over 7.00. Still, he was part of a team that won just 51 games and many felt he would have a spot in the starting rotation in 2005. The odds became slimmer when the Diamondbacks signed Russ Ortiz and Shawn Estes, but it was still assumed he would at least be in the mix for the #5 spot in the rotation.

Which is why it came as such a shock, to everyone including Casey Daigle, when he was not only not given the #5 spot, but sent all the way down to Double-A Tennessee to open the year.

"I don't think he was real happy when he first found out," Daigle's Manager at Tennessee, Tony Perezchica, said early in October. Perezchica had just worked with Daigle for a week of tune ups in Tucson before the young right hander headed to Phoenix for a stint in the Arizona Fall League, "but he never complained, and he showed up every day to work, which was important for the organization to see."

The thing is, Perezchica isn't even talking about the 'demotion' to Tennessee. He's talking about a move the almost nobody, even those who might have though he was getting bumped back to Double-A, saw coming.

Casey Daigle was becoming a closer.

"Honestly, I'm loving it," Daigle says of his new role, "I'd much rather do this than start now."

That wasn't always the way it was, Daigle backs up what Perezchica had heard.

"I'm not going to say I was resisting it," Daigle says as he warms up before a game with the Phoenix Desert Dogs of the Arizona Fall League, "but I had always been a starting pitcher, ever since I started playing baseball. It was more of a shock than something I was unhappy about."

Even worse for Daigle was that he wasn't able to cut the cord on his career as a starter when he went to Tennessee. Injuries to pitchers slated to be in Tennessee's rotation forced Daigle to debut as a closer, and then move right back into the rotation for a pair of early April starts. It was a whirlwind ride. In less than a month Daigle had gone from a big league starter, to a minor league reliever, then back to a starter, and then back to the bullpen. Still, looking back, one can't help but understand the tall right hander's new found love of his new found role.

Once he finally settled into the bullpen, he was electric.

"The biggest thing for me was just fear," Daigle says, "when you spend your whole life starting, you just don't know how your arm is going to react to going every other day, much less every day."

It didn't take long to find out. Daigle made his first back to back appearance on the 27th and 28th of April, and in May he posted an amazing month, not allowing a single earned run in 11 appearances. In fact, Daigle went on an incredible tear, allowing just two earned runs in 29 appearances from the end of April to the middle of June. He was moved into the closer's role full time in the middle of that streak, picking up 16 saves in his first 17 chances and picking up seven wins along the way. His experience as a starter allowed Perezchica to go to Daigle for more than an inning often, and any worries he had about how his arm would hold up vanished.

"I'm actually throwing a lot better in this role," Daigle says, "as a starter I would sit 88-91 and occasionally get up to 93, but now I'm throwing 91-93 and will get it up to 95 and even 96 every now and again. My ball moves more, I'm throwing harder, and I'm challenging hitters a lot more because I know I'm really only going to have to get three outs most of the time. I'm just a better pitcher in this role."

His invitation to the Arizona Fall League came as a little bit of a surprise, but it made sense once Daigle thought about it.

"I realized that even though I'd pitched a full year, I'm still learning how to pitch as a closer, so it's been a great experience."

And for more reasons than just his development as a pitcher.

"It's a little bit funny for me, because I've been in the big leagues and so guys will talk to me about what it is like, but all these guys are going to get to the bigs, they are all talented. I'm just here having a good time, just like the rest of the guys."

As far as when Daigle gets back to the Diamondbacks, he's not even going to speculate. Despite the D'Backs bullpen woes in 2005, he's just working on becoming the best reliever he can be, and when he gets his chance he'll take it.

"It's no different for me now than it was in 2004," Daigle says, "I'm working hard, and when I get the chance I'll try to make the most of it."

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