26 days away from Opening Day. The Brewers are 4-4-1 in Cactus League play for Spring Training.
Which of these numbers means more?
Clearly the Opening Day countdown! Spring Training records are even more meaningless than the statistics of the players which have played to the record attained.
Another number that means something to the fans and players alike is the number on each player’s back. Something about jersey numbers becoming identifiable with certain players just rings true.
Today’s player wears the number 26 on his back while pitching for the Milwaukee Brewers. It reflects his path to the Major Leagues as one of unlikelihood because this player was originally drafted in the 26th round(!) of the 2001 First-Year Player Draft. He is none other than:
The southpaw who hails from Sacramento, California stands 6’3″ tall while doing that pitching. The scale officially reads 205 pounds when he steps atop it. The frame and athleticism has never been in question for Manuel Alex Parra, even when he was drafted at 6’2″ and 185 pounds.
Originally drafted, as are so many pitchers, to start games, Parra’s slow and steady climb through the organization has been one of determination and drive. He has had to overcome a number of obstacles to both reach and stay in the big leagues. From injuries to mechanics to bouts of ineffectiveness, something has continually been placed in Parra’s path to success.
If there’s anything that his draft position tells you, however, it’s that he’s not going to let anything stand in his way. Ultimately, if it can be overcome, Parra will find a way.
After being unable to stick in the starting rotation over the years, Parra was resigned to a role change and a spot in the bullpen for 2011. Unfortunately, Parra got exactly two pitches into the Cactus League season when he injured his back on March 3, 2011.
Officially a “facet joint injury”, Parra was on a rehab assignment as early as April 9th. He then appeared in seven more games at Triple-A before having elbow pain and being diagnosed with a sprained ulnar collateral ligament in his pitching elbow as well as a flexor strain.
(The ulnar collateral ligament, or “UCL”, is the ligament in the elbow that requires ligament replacement surgery to fix should the ligament tear. This procedure is commonly referred to as “Tommy John Surgery”, having been named after the pitcher who first underwent the experimental procedure and was able to come back to pitch in the big leagues.)
Not wanting to risk further damage and possible surgery, Parra was prescribed rest and rehab. He did not pitch the rest of the season.
To put a surgical capper on 2011, Parra underwent surgery at the end of August to remove a bone spur from his left elbow.
To put it mildly, last year was an exercise in fortitude once again.
Being out of minor-league options, as he was last year, it’s another important Spring Training for Parra. He isn’t guaranteed a spot on the 25-man roster (ultimately, few are) but his handedness works in his favor.
The team lacked for not having any left-hander to call upon, let alone a quality one with the pure stuff which Parra possesses. He has competition for that role though. Zach Braddock has reportedly overcome his sleeping disorder and subsequent personal issues from last season and non-roster invitee Juan Perez has been raising eyebrows and turning heads in camp so far.
(***UPDATE: Since the writing of this article, word came down today that Juan Perez was admitted to a hospital with a partially collapsed lung. Clearly his recovery and health are of the utmost importance, but from a roster standpoint, it could work in Parra’s favor if it takes Perez a while to regain the form he was previously showing.***)
The other element working in Parra’s favor is that he isn’t simply a LOOGy type. Parra has been effective against both right- and left-handed hitters throughout his career. He could fill a middle or long relief role in the bullpen but could also be called upon for those short appearances as well.
Parra uses a low-to-mid 90’s fastball, a split-fingered fastball as his out pitch, along with a curveball and straight change up. They’re all effective pitches and he can throw each of them for strikes.
So far this spring, Parra has had some effective appearances where he has missed down for the most part when he’s missed. The key for Parra though is that he’s felt healthy before, during, and after each of his stints on the mound both in games and doing side work.
There is absolutely a spot open for a left-handed relief pitcher on this 25-man roster, and since Braddock does have options and Perez is in camp on a minor-league deal, it would seem like Parra has a leg up for depth-related reasons if all else is equal.
We’ll learn more as the spring progresses, but you can’t just expect Brewers Manager Ron Roenicke to make his determination early enough that we’ll all be able to analyze it to death. He isn’t prone to announcing decisions such as that one any earlier than he is forced to.
In the meantime, Parra has plenty to prove this spring. After all, Roenicke hasn’t seen Parra pitch a whole heck of a lot in person. That could make all the difference as familiarity can breed preference.
Luckily, Roenicke seems to rely on performance much more than familiarity to this point in his career as manager.
And at this point, Parra could use a bit of luck on his side.
You can follow Manny Parra on Twitter: @MannyParra26