The Atlanta Braves were headed for Miami after completing a three-game series in Target Field. They have four games scheduled against the Marlins, providing ample opportunity for Leslie Doyle to have an in-person view of her son Anthony Swarzak’s current exploits as a big-league pitcher.
“My mom’s doing fine … still truckin’, still working hard,’’ Swarzak said on Wednesday morning, a couple of hours before the Braves and the Twins were going to play Game 3.
It was a decade ago that Swarzak made his debut for the Twins: the starting pitcher against the Brewers on May 23, 2009.
Leslie found a fill-in for her scheduled shift at the Southport Raw Bar and flew in from Fort Lauderdale with Steve Selimos, her husband at the time. I noticed Leslie’s level of excitement when Anthony walked toward the outfield to stretch, and we had a fine chat in the stands.
Mom was blue-collar and a definite character. And Anthony did her proud in that first start: 7 scoreless innings vs. the Brewers in a 6-2 win.
Leslie was seen pointing energetically upward after the game ended. “We were pointing at the scoreboard,’’ she said. “His name was up there: ‘Swarzak 1-0.’ Seven scoreless innings in his first game. That’s never happened before for the Twins.’’
It had never happened for a Twins’ starter. It hadn’t happened in the Washington/Minnesota organization since Mike Fornieles pitched a nine-inning shutout for the original Senators in a 5-0 victory over the Philadelphia Athletics on Sept. 2, 1952.
“That night was a thrill for all of us,’’ Swarzak said. “Seems like a long time ago. Lots of moving around since then.’’
Swarzak made 12 starts for the Twins over the remainder of 2009 and they didn’t go as well as the first. He did not return to the big leagues until making a start on April 28, 2011, came back on May 19, with 10 more starts and 16 relief appearances.
That was the Twins’ team that closed by going 19-50 and lost 99 games. It was the start of the troublesome 20-tens for the Twins, and Swarzak was allowed to become a free agent after the 2014 season.
He signed with Cleveland, was released in June 2015 and wound up landing with Doosan in the Korean Baseball Organization.
“I was headed for the minors for the first time in four years,’’ Swarzak said. “The Korea opportunity came up and it was better situation for my family financially.’’
Swarzak worked 92 innings there, with a high ERA but with a new approach to pitching. “I was a starter and went back to being a two-pitch pitcher – fastball and slider,’’ he said.
He signed with the Yankees and was ineffective in 2016. He signed with the White Sox and was traded to the Brewers in 2017, and was outstanding with both. He received a two-year, $14 million contract with the Mets in 2018, and then missed a big hunk of the season with an oblique.
Last December, he went to Seattle with a handful of Mets in the Robinson Cano trade. And after 15 games with the Mariners, he was traded on May 20 to Atlanta – the first of several bullpen reinforcements to come to the first-place Braves.
Swarzak made his 27th appearance for the Braves on Wednesday, pitching a scoreless seventh in Atlanta's 11-7 victory. He's holding hitters under a .200 average since going from the rebuilding Mariners to a team that is in win-now mode.
“This is a great place to be,’’ Swarzak said. “There’s so much talent in this room, young and veteran. It’s a team that has a legitimate shot to play in a World Series, but nobody talks about that.
“Win the game today. That’s the whole approach here.’’
The National League East was supposed to be a tangled mess with Atlanta, Philadephia, Washington and the Mets – and Miami as the chump. The Braves went into first by themselves on June 12 and have stayed there since, keeping the lead in the neighborhood of 6 games for weeks.
Swarzak turns 34 next month and was joined by Shane Greene, Mark Melancon and Chris Martin as bullpen additions at the trading deadline. Even with the Dodgers as a massive obstacle, the Braves are giving it their best shot to reach the World Series for the first time in 20 years.