Early in the morning on April 16 Matt Buschmann received a phone call and within two hours his car was packed so he could embark on an eight-hour trip — he had been traded to the Rays.
Originally a 15th round selection of the San Diego Padres in the 2006 MLB Amateur Draft, the Washington Nationals chose him in the Rule 5 draft this past offseason. Before he ever received the opportunity to make an appearance for his new club he was traded for cash considerations and assigned to Double-A Montgomery.
Buschmann, who was in Florida at the time, spoke with his new pitching coach R.C. Lichtenstein throughout the drive. They discussed Buschmann; his mechanics and pitches, what the coaching staff thought of him and all about how pitching is perceived in the Rays system.
"I felt pretty comfortable right away," said the right-hander, who was eager for the chance to showcase his talents.
Comfy or not, the Vanderbilt product was not greeted too kindly by the Southern League. In his first outing with the Biscuits, Buschmann (1-2) surrendered five earned runs off seven hits in 2.2 innings of relief. Four days later, however, he was stretched out to five innings of work and gave up just two runs in a game that earned him a spot in the rotation.
After a pair of mediocre starts, Buschmann fired six shutout innings against the Chattanooga Lookouts, who lead the Southern League in runs. As an encore, he took a no-hitter into the sixth inning on May 11 against the Jacksonville Suns. He struck out a dozen over 6.2 innings, the third-most strikeouts in a single-game in Biscuits history.
"It was fun. I think any pitcher who's been in that situation can say that you know when you're stuff is on," Buschmann said.
Buschmann took a step backward on Thursday, in his latest start. In the loss, he allowed 12 hits, which led to four runs in 4.2 innings. His ERA stands at 5.45 in 33 innings with the Biscuits. That night's box score was reminiscent of his recent years, mainly 2009-11, in the Padres farm system.
"I did well early for them [the Padres] and kind of put myself on the map," Buschmann said. "But in my first year in Triple-A, I struggled in the Pacific Coast League and then we got a whole new front office. That, coupled with the bad year, made me have to reprove myself and I don't think I ever got back to where I was."
In 2009, his first year in the notoriously hitter-friendly PCL, Buschmann's ERA was 6.18 in 99 innings. He started 2010 in Double-A, where he performed well a year earlier, as a result and pitched fine: 2-2 with a 3.46 ERA and 74 strikeouts in 67 innings. His success was spoiled after a promotion and he then allowed 25 earned runs in 24 innings at the next level.
Last season was a continuation of the trend. After a 6-1 start in Double-A, Buschmann carried a 7.31 ERA in the PCL after 88.2 innings. Opponents hit .351 against him.
"I had success in Double-A, but I mainly did it with two pitches and I really didn't have a third pitch. I was able to get away with that in Double-A," Buschmann said. "Not having a changeup or any type of slower pitch hurt me, plus my confidence level after getting hit hard early went down."
Using his changeup, — a pitch Buschmann says he has a "love-hate relationship" with — along with his slider, repeating his delivery and working on the inner-third of the plate has helped the sinkerballer find some good fortune with the Biscuits this season.
"We like him here. He has a power sinker and throws between 90-94 mph," Lichtenstein said. "For him, it has a lot to do with his arm slot. Hitters don't know whether it's a fastball or slider until it is way too late."
After the promotion of Shane Dyer, the Biscuits rotation is left with Buschmann, Jacob Thompson, Joe Cruz, Kyle Lobstein and Merrill Kelly, who pitched five scoreless innings Saturday in his first start.
The Biscuits have the highest team ERA in the Southern League, 4.52. Thompson's, Cruz's, and Lobstein's ERAs are all worse than Buschmann's mark.
Buschmann's next start is will be against the Suns on either Wednesday or Thursday, depending on how the team configures their rotation after two days off. But he says his experience will deter him from thinking he has to try to do anything as a perceived leader of the rotation.
"If I go into games and think I have to be a stopper or do anything outside of what I normally do, then that's how I'll get into trouble," Buschmann said.
Will Sammon is the Montgomery Biscuits beat writer for Rays Digest. You can follow him on Twitter at @WillSammon.
______________________________________________________________ Subscribe to RaysDigest.com today! Only $79.95 brings you one full year of Total Access Pass and all premium content on RaysDigest.com, the Scout Player and Roster Database (including the 'Hot News' at the top of the site), Breaking News and Information, Total Access to all Scout.com Websites and Player Pages which detail the progress and careers of players from high school, college, the minors, and the pro ranks.
Sample the RaysDigest.com Total Access Pass at no risk for 7 days, then pay only $7.95 or $21.95. If you want to save 2 months off of the monthly subscription price, simply choose the annual RaysDigest.com Total Access Pass at $79.95.