In taking the mound last Sunday, Everett Teaford joined many past Royals making their first major league start in September and his five shutout innings put him in the company of others who found success in the role in the last month of the season.
For Teaford, his win is a good sign, as he gets a jumpstart in what should be a crowded battle for a rotation spot next year.
And while success is good, it’s no guarantee, if history tells us anything.
Teaford faced 18 batters on Sunday, walking one and allowing just four hits. Because he’s been used sparingly and in relief in 2011, he only reached 73 pitches or he likely could have went deeper. He struck out five and induced as many grounders as he did fly balls.
He’s building on a good rookie year where he’d produced a 3,21 ERA through 28 innings before the start. In Omaha, he threw 35 innings, finishing with a 3.34 and 0.971 WHIP.
He started 99 of 141 games in the minors, so his prospects for a rotation spot next year seem pretty good.
But there’s an ominous side to the September discussion. Teaford has never been a prospect. That doesn’t mean he should be written off, but he’s going to have to continue to perform to stay ahead of the pack. His next start will get him in better standing if he does well again.
His usage has been spotty. On four different occasions, he’s gone ten days or more between appearances, including a stretch from July 18 to August 14 where he made it into three games. If the Royals wanted to get a look at him, well, they’d go get a look at him.
We should also remember to take September numbers with a grain of salt. Not to discredit Teaford’s day, but he faced Seattle, a team that isn’t playing for anything other than to finish the season and get some young players time at the plate.
Think of Septembers past.
In 2008, Kyle Davies made six starts from August 29 to the end of the year and over 36.1 innings, he showed good stuff with a 26/8 K/BB ratio and a 2.48 ERA. He looked every bit the top pitching prospect the Braves had waited on and that Dayton Moore had remembered. In 2009, with a rotation spot sown up, he had a 5.27 ERA in 22 starts.
The next year, Robinson Tejeda got a chance to start with hopes of a rotation spot and he showed promise. While his control was a bit off at times (20 walks in six starts), he was almost unhittable and struck out 32 batters in 31.2 innings. He finished with a 2.84 September ERA and a .138 batting average against.
He was lucky on balls in play and his walks didn’t hurt him during that stretch. In 2010, he never got a chance to start but became a very good reliever, working in late and middle innings. Going into 2011, he was tabbed as the setup man, but tendinitis landed him on the disabled list and he’s been in Triple A since.
September success guarantees nothing. Teaford’s next start could be the opposite of his Sunday victory. At 27 years old, he’s old, relative to the rest of the pitching staff. If Mike Montgomery turns it on next year, Teaford’s spot becomes tenuous.
For now, though, he should enjoy the win and enjoy the opportunity and hope he can keep the September success rolling.