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Article: The Rise Of Ryan O'Rourke

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#1 Seth Stohs

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Posted 09 January 2015 - 01:36 AM

This article was originally posted in January. Ryan O'Rourke had just found out that he had been invited to big league spring training. Tonight, O'Rourke learned that he is heading to the big leagues, replacing lefty Aaron Thompson who was optioned.

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When Merrimack College beat the University of Minnesota’s Men’s Hockey team in the Mariucci Classic a week ago, one member of the Twins organization was very happy. Ryan O’Rourke is a proud Merrimack alum. Recently, the left-handed reliever was invited to big league camp with the Twins. He is trying to meet a goal that many may have seen as unlikely just three years ago.The Minnesota Twins used their 13th round pick of the 2010 draft to select O’Rourke, a four-year senior from Merrimack College. In high school, O’Rourke was a three sport athlete. He played football, hockey and baseball. He thinks that it is important for kids today to be involved in more than one sport.

“I think playing more than one sport is crucial. All the kids that I talk to, or parents that ask me to talk to their kids, I tell them to go out there and find as many things as you can possibly do athletically and try to excel in them. Work as hard as you can because the stuff that translates to the mound is great, not just physically, but mentally. It’s great.”

Though he skated with the Merrimack hockey team in college, he didn’t play on the team. However, he had a role in his years in high school hockey.

“I kind of had to be the guy who checked a lot of people. I’ve taken that bulldog mentality, and I try to bring it to the mound. At this point in my career, I’m coming out there for one or two innings, so I need to bring my all for that point and time. All the sports I’ve played tell me that I need to come with everything I’ve got. I try to take that to the baseball mound as well. ”

O’Rourke began his professional career splitting time between the rotation and the bullpen. After a solid 2011 season in Beloit, he returned to the Snappers roster to start the 2012 season. Through mid-July, he was struggling with a 5.59 ERA in 29 appearances. Already 24, he could not help but wonder about his future in baseball.

“Without a doubt, there’s a thought that creeps into everyone’s head. You could be the best or the worst player in the world, but there’s a point where that thought always creeps into your head. I did think about it. Am I out of my league? Is this too far above me?”

Fortunately, O’Rourke had some supporters. “I had a few conversations with coaches and staff and the front office. They told me that they believed in me, that the numbers were kind of a fluke. I believed them. I think the confidence that they gave me really propelled me to the next year, 2013, and this year, 2014. Just knowing that someone is there in your corner, I think that really helps. Confidence is probably the most important thing that you can have on the mound. There can be days when your stuff is not there, but if mentally you think that you’re the top of the hill that day, then you’ll probably have a good day. Yeah, there was a time back then where I didn’t think I was very good. That’s always there. You just kind of have to kick that aside and focus on what you can control.”

In Beloit, Jon and Erin Pingel decided that, for the first time, they would be willing to be a host family for members of the Beloit Snappers. They, along with their two young children, were fortunate to be able to host O’Rourke. According to Erin, “We were very excited those two stayed with us. We had met them the year before, and we really liked that Ryan picked AJ (Achter) to room with him.”

O’Rourke is a very competitive pitcher on the mound, but what about off the field? According to Ping, “He was fun, just one of the kids. They played their games, and then they came home and played with the kids in the backyard.”

O’Rourke made some adjustments and figured some things out the last two seasons. In 2013, left-handed batters hit just .173/.214/.250 (464) against him. Those are tremendous numbers. In 2014, the southpaw limited lefties to a .114/.162/.129 (.291) stat line.

“I really can’t explain it. I don’t know if I attack them differently. I throw fastballs and sliders to lefties and righties, so it’s not like my pitches are different. Obviously my pitches are coming from different angles, one is seeing it break in and the other is seeing it break away. I’ve even asked lefties on my team to step in against me, and they just say it’s a really sharp breaking ball. I don’t know what it is I do. I just go out there. I’m just going to keep going out there and doing what I know how to do and what I’m blessed to do. I’m not really trying to change up anything at this point.”

With that kind of success against left-handed batters, that sounds like a good plan. That said, he knows that he is not yet a finished product. He said, “I need to refine some things, yes, but with the success I’ve had against lefties, I’m just going to try to build on that. Work on whatever I was weak at and build my strength.

You may be asking yourself, “Did Ryan O’Rourke cut down on the number of pitches he throws now that he’s pitching solely out of the bullpen? What is his strategy on the mound?"

“I throw the same bag of tricks I had as a starter now as a reliever. I’ve thrown a couple of change-ups this year to righties and lefties. I’ve thrown a lot of curveballs to lefties and righties. I throw a ton of two-seamers to lefties and righties. I don’t know what it looks like to them. In my head, I try to speed up and slow down stuff depending on what the batter is doing. If he’s trying to cheat to a fastball, maybe I’ll throw a really slow breaking ball. If he’s trying to sit back on my slider, maybe I’ll throw a cutter, so they think it’s a fastball, jump on it and it tails away a little. I just try to mix things up with every pitch I have. There are not too many people in the world who can just throw two pitches and get away with it. Mariano Rivera only had to throw one pitch. I really just use everything I have and keep it down, keep it low.”

O’Rourke has seen his role altered, particularly in 2014. Whereas previously he would typically pitch an inning or two, he now was being used as a LOOGY (left-handed one out guy). O’Rourke provided a scenario. “This past year, I really started focusing on it because I would see a left-hander is batting fourth next inning. The coach would be like ‘Ryan, you have the fourth hitter. The fourth batter gets up, you get it.’ That’s where I kind of saw my role of OK, here’s a lefty, you need to get a lefty.”

As he saw more and more success against same-sided hitters, he noticed some changes. “I started seeing batters just kind of standing there and just being like, ‘I’m going to wait for him to prove that he can throw three strikes because I’m not going to swing at a ball and miss.’ Then toward the end of the year, the managers were just pulling every lefty. If a lefty was coming up, they’d just put in a righty.”

Sure, O’Rourke probably would have liked to face more left-handed hitters, but he understood and looked at it the right way. “I just took it as a compliment.”
After playing in Puerto Rico during the previous offseason, Ryan O’Rourke had the opportunity to play in Venezuela this year. He pitched 12.2 innings over 21 appearances for Aguilas del Zulia before coming back to the States for the holidays and for some rest before spring training starts. He was very excited about going to Venezuela and had goals to make the most of the opportunity.
“I was told this is the hardest winter league. My goal was to go down there, enjoy myself, immerse myself in the culture and have a good experience. That was goal #1 for me. And goal #2 was to get better at baseball, learn what guys are going to do, everything. A lot of the hitters there are veterans, big leaguers. I mean, I faced Bobby Abreu down there. That was pretty cool!”

There are many difficulties for American ballplayers in Venezuela. One of the obvious ones is the language barrier. O’Rourke worked on it, and he really thrived. “I took Spanish in college, but I’ve probably learned more in minor league baseball. Down there, it’s 100% necessity that you need to know. If you know broken Spanish, you’ll get by, but I got pretty close to conversational fluency. All the Americans were asking me to translate. We’d go out to eat and guys would ask me to sit with them so I could order for them.”

All in all, it was a great opportunity for the 26-year-old left-hander from Massechusetts. “I went down there and it was a great experience. I was happy with what I accomplished on the field, and I was happy with everything I learned off the field. My time there, I think I spent it intelligently, and I’m happy I did it. I think that the Twins were happy I did it as well.”

Whether it was his performance in Venezuela, or his performance with the New Britain Rock Cats (and one appearance with Rochester) in 2014, O’Rourke made an impression. Enough of an impression that while he was sitting on the beach in Venezuela one day, he received a call on his cell phone with a Minnesota number.

“Terry Ryan called me and asked how are things were going down there. He talked to me about the season, said I had a good year and that there are always things to improve on. Then he told me that they were going to invite me into spring training. It was a short, quick conversation. It was a good conversation. I was excited, and surprised. You always think in the back of your head that you have a chance.”

Being a non-roster Invitee to big league spring training guarantees nothing for a player, but as O’Rourke acknowledges, it is an opportunity. “That’s the way I look at it. In minor league camp, we always have a talk that someone in that room is going to get to the big leagues that year who didn’t pitch at all in big league camp. And it does happen every year. Look at AJ Achter last year. He was in minor league camp, pitched and got a call in September. But, the amount of guys that were in big league camp that pitched in the big leagues last year was exponentially higher. I’m hoping to make the team right out of camp, don’t get me wrong, but if that doesn’t happen, I want to get the first call. I mean, that’s just the reality of it.”

He was very excited for his long-time friend AJ Achter when he got his September call up to the big leagues. “Everyone in the locker room that day was just pumped. Couldn’t happen to a better guy.”

However, O’Rourke sees Achter’s situation as something more. “I was probably one of the first guys that AJ met in pro ball and we’ve been great friends ever since. It was just a great moment for me for it to happen to him because… this might sound weird, but look at my good buddy getting called up there. It’s motivation. I’ve been with him every step of the way. So, what’s to say I can’t do it too?”

So, what will it be like when Ryan O’Rourke does, at some point, get that call that he will pitch in the big leagues? What will it be like to don that Minnesota Twins uniform in a regular season game for the first time?

He quickly pointed out, “Don’t knock the spring training games. That will be a big moment too.”

He continued, “Everything’s a step on the way. When you get the call from A-Ball to High-A, that was a good moment. High-A to AA was a cool moment. AA to AAA… They’re all cool moments. But getting the call to the peak of baseball is going to be… I don’t know… I don’t know. I’ll probably sit there and wonder if it’s real. When it happens, it’s going to be a great moment. I’ll just think of all the long bus rides, the struggles, the ups and downs, and all that culminating in the eventual biggest moment of your life when you get called up to the big leagues. I’ll probably call my Mom and my Mom is going to start crying. I’m going to work hard and if it happens, it happens. That’s why I play baseball. That’s why I give it all I have to put myself in a position to get that call.”

On the morning of Christmas Eve, Ryan O’Rourke boarded a six-passenger plane in Venezuela. It traveled to Aruba where they encountered a storm that shook the plane. Somehow, the pilot landed the plane safely. Another flight later, and he was home with his family for Christmas and some time off before heading down to Ft. Myers in early February for his first spring training. He’ll try to get to some Boston Bruins games and hopes to get to a Patriots game in Foxboro if they keep their season alive.

I’m sure that, on some level, O’Rourke has felt his career has been as shaky as that small plane ride. The Pingel family calls him “A kid at heart.” He is also a kid with heart, heart that has him attending big league spring training next month. O’Rourke has kind of always been an underdog, and he’s been able to get to this point. He’s certainly one guy to cheer for this spring.


(Almost three years ago, in the early days of Twins Daily, Ryan O’Rourke wrote an article for our site which you can read by clicking here.)

Click here to view the article
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#2 highlander

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Posted 09 January 2015 - 05:28 AM

Looks like a solid option for the bully. Nice asset that he is bilingual. GOOD LUCK RYAN!

#3 Boone

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Posted 09 January 2015 - 12:01 PM

O'Rourke deserves to start the year with the Twins as much, if not more, than anyone we have in the minors.  41 strikeouts against just 4 walks in 20.1 IP against lefties for New Britain last year is just way too good.  

 

Being a LOOGY isn't glamorous but it's an important role in the bullpen.  I have a hard time believing there's anyone in the Twins organization who could do that better than O'Rourke right now.


#4 brvama

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Posted 09 January 2015 - 12:32 PM

Great read.I have just become a BIG O'Rourke fan.Love the underdog bulldogs.Plus he's a lefty.Hope he gets his chance this year.

 

"Everyone was born right-handed, only the greatest overcame it."

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#5 nater79a

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Posted 09 January 2015 - 12:40 PM

Just in the AL Central alone there's a ton of left-handed hitters where a good LOOGY would come in handy. Guys like Michael Brantley, Adam LaRoche and Alex Gordon just to name a few. And unlike the minor leagues, they are most likely not going to be pinch-hit for. Upwards of 80 games against Chicago, Cleveland, KC and Detroit will cry out for a solid situational lefty reliever on many critical occasions. Hopefully, O'Rourke starts out strong and gets his shot with the big club.


#6 Lonestar

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Posted 09 January 2015 - 01:32 PM

Seth, you left out the fact that his split in 104 plate appearances against RHB's in 2014 was .326/.398/.573/.971.Most definitely a LOOGY.Have you ever seen such a split differential.

 

Oliveros put up the following splits

vs LHB .168/.264/.206/.470 in 123 PA's

vs RHB .212/.299/.316/.617 in 151 PA's

 

So replace Duensing and Thielbar with Oliveros and O'Rourke.

 

Then there's Michael Tonkin.Here are his 2014 splits:

vs LHB .290/.336/.470/.806 in 116 PA's

vs RHB .246/.310/.282/.592 in 161 PA's

 

And here are Tonkin's 2013 splits:

vs LHB .173/.259/.279/.537 in 116 PA's

vs RHB .271/.315/.361/.676 in 178 PA's

 

Is there a special cause besides small sample size?

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#7 blindeke

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Posted 09 January 2015 - 01:52 PM

could replace Duensing tomorrow


#8 DocBauer

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Posted 09 January 2015 - 08:23 PM

I am really hoping Darnell makes a move and gets a real shot at some point in the pen. He and Thielbar could make a nice combination from the port side with solid SO ability. With 7 RP on staff, I kind of like of O'Rourke as a third portsider LOOGY. Oliveros, Tokin and ???? from the RH side of things with Perkins closing.
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#9 Seth Stohs

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Posted 09 January 2015 - 09:17 PM

Fien, Stauffer, Achter... 

 

I think Darnell has good stuff for a lefty bullpen guy. I think he can be solid for some time. I'd like to see him pitch out of that role for Rochester for a couple of months. He and O'Rourke and Thompson could provide some quality lefty work for the Red Wings. 


#10 Lonestar

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Posted 09 January 2015 - 10:28 PM

I am really hoping Darnell makes a move and gets a real shot at some point in the pen. He and Thielbar could make a nice combination from the port side with solid SO ability. With 7 RP on staff, I kind of like of O'Rourke as a third portsider LOOGY. Oliveros, Tokin and ???? from the RH side of things with Perkins closing.

I disagree.It's suboptimal to have more than 1 LOOGY on a 12-man staff in the regular season.O'Rourke is a genuine LOOGY - at least in the minors.Thielbar isn't a LOOGY.He has been lucky.

 

With Perkins closing, why would you need more than 1 LOOGY.

 

LHRP's are OK if they are like JC Romero or Johan Santana were in 2002.RHLP's with strong splits against LHB's like Oliveros or Burdi would be better than LOOGY's.

 

My two cents.


#11 Lonestar

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Posted 09 January 2015 - 10:40 PM

by the way, the closest thing the Royals had to a LOOGY on their post season roster was Tim Collins.


#12 Shane Wahl

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Posted 10 January 2015 - 03:57 AM

Another reason why keeping Duensing around doesn't make any sense. Speaking of LOOGYs and as an aside, I really think that if Johan Santana wants to properly come back to MLB, he should consider such a bullpen role. The changeup can still matter as a secondary pitch in shorter appearances after your velocity on the fastball goes. That said, the velocity of the fastball might return if he sticks to the bullpen.
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#13 Lonestar

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Posted 10 January 2015 - 11:41 AM

Another reason why keeping Duensing around doesn't make any sense. Speaking of LOOGYs and as an aside, I really think that if Johan Santana wants to properly come back to MLB, he should consider such a bullpen role. The changeup can still matter as a secondary pitch in shorter appearances after your velocity on the fastball goes. That said, the velocity of the fastball might return if he sticks to the bullpen.

I agree that keeping Duensing (especially at his price tag) is suboptimal.

 

Regarding Johan: There is more to being a LOOGY than being left handed.He hasn't been especially effective against LHB's since 2008 because of the demise of his slider.


#14 ashbury

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Posted 10 January 2015 - 01:42 PM

There is more to being a LOOGY than being left handed.He hasn't been especially effective against LHB's since 2008 because of the demise of his slider.

Old saying: nobody needs left-handed pitchers, what is needed is pitchers who can get left-handed batters out.

If your attack appears to be going well, then you're in an ambush.


#15 diehardtwinsfan

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Posted 11 January 2015 - 06:52 AM

I honestly thought Duensing would be non-tendered in favor of Orouke this offseason.But against righties he still has quite a bit of work to do, so keeping Brian around for another season isn't necessarily a bad idea. 

 

But yeah, this kid is a LOOGY...I wouldnt' want more than one in the pen, but having a guy like this that you can bring in a criticial inning against a couple of left handed batters is very valuable.


#16 Shane Wahl

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Posted 07 July 2015 - 07:09 AM

 

Another reason why keeping Duensing around doesn't make any sense.

 

Here we are on July 7th now. Last seven innings aside, it has been a disaster.


#17 SD Buhr

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Posted 07 July 2015 - 07:27 AM

If you can't get a little excited to see a guy like O'Rourke get his call, you simply have no heart. Here's hoping he gives the Twins the LOOGY shot in the arm they need.

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#18 jimbo92107

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Posted 07 July 2015 - 10:57 AM

LOOGY. Man, baseball's got some strange quirks.

The door opened. A woman screamed. Someday, my mom would learn to knock.

#19 ashbury

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Posted 07 July 2015 - 11:31 AM

Why bring up a LOOGY when you have a righty in AAA who is doing well against RHB but even better against lefties?

 

/ spoiler: AJ Achter

If your attack appears to be going well, then you're in an ambush.


#20 DuluthFan

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Posted 07 July 2015 - 11:47 AM

This seems to be a 'check to see what he's got' call up. While he seems to have some good numbers against lefties, Logan Darnell has half the era that O'Rourke has and can do it against both lefties and righties.

 

O'Rourke could become a minor league free agent after this season (if he's not on the 40 man roster).

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