“Well, I’m done,” Figueroa said. “I’ll never get back there now.”
The funny thing about the two runs Figueroa allowed for Lehigh Valley is that they were the only two he gave up in three starts covering 19 innings. In that same span the righty struck out 18, and allowed just 13 hitters to get on base. His 3-0 record with a 0.95 ERA was further proof that Figueroa could get outs in the big leagues.
Then again, this is not news. Figueroa has been that guy for a long time — the proverbial square peg in a round hole. Sometimes it seems as if the strikes against him are his age, repertoire or the location of his dominant hand. Maybe if he were younger, threw harder or was a lefty, Figueroa’s career would have turned out differently.
No one would fault Figueroa if he had some bitterness or had called it quits long ago. However, that hasn’t been the case at all. With an arsenal of what seems to be about 100 different pitches along with a handful of derivations, Figueroa is like a Swiss Army knife for Charlie Manuel.
In fact, this season Figueroa has started a game, closed one, come in as the long man and as a situational right-hander. Mixed in there is a week as the International League player of the week and enough frequent traveler miles to circle the earth.
To top it off, Figueroa is back with the Phillies a decade after he was traded from Arizona as part of the Curt Schilling trade.
It’s crazy to think that of all the players in that trade — Omar Daal, Travis Lee and Vicente Padilla — that Figueroa would somehow manage to find a way back with the Phillies.
Oh, but the right-hander has taken the scenic route. Last season Figueroa, from Coney Island in Brooklyn, made 10 starts for the Mets and has appeared in 32 games for his hometown team over the past two seasons. In between his 2001 season for the Phillies and 2009 work for New York, Figueroa has pitched for Milwaukee and Pittsburgh in the Majors, as well as Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, Indianapolis, New Orleans, Nashville, Long Island, Buffalo, Chihuahua in the Mexican League as well as South Korea and Taiwan.
All told Figueroa has pitched for 18 different teams, which doesn’t include winter league when he was MVP of the 2007 Chinese Professional Baseball League championship series. Shoot, he even took the entire 2005 season off to recover from two different shoulder surgeries after tearing his rotator cuff.
“I can relate to that a lot,” said Manuel, who had a playing career very similar to Figueroa. “I played five years in the minors before I even made the major leagues and I used to get sent out some to play for some and then get called back. Yeah, I can relate to those things.”
Manuel went to Figueroa for two innings on back-to-back nights, which in the modern game is definitely old school. Actually, Figueroa would have gone back to the mound in the 13th for a third inning and was waiting on deck to hit until catcher Brian Schneider blasted his walk-off homer to give the pitcher his second big league win of the season.
Like a lot of ballplayers, Figueroa says he hasn’t thought much about how much longer he’ll play. What makes him unique is that with a degree in American Studies from renowned Brandeis University, the vagabond lifestyle of a journeyman pitcher is an interesting career choice.
“I’ve learned one thing in this game, you can’t control anything,” he said “I can only control when the ball is in my hand and I’m out there on the mound.”
This year he’s been in control, but for how long. When Chad Durbin returns from the disabled list after the All-Star Break, Figueroa could be caught in another numbers crunch and be designated for assignment for the third time this year between two teams in the NL East.
Still, it’s almost a guarantee that Figueroa will be pitching for somewhere for the rest of the year. It might not be in the big leagues, but as long as he’s still consistently getting outs with control over that vast repertoire of pitches, some team will want him. After all, pitchers that get outs just don’t grow on trees.