When Tommy Shirley takes the mound Saturday night in his first ever appearance at Chickasaw Bricktown Ballpark, he’s a good example that a pitcher doesn’t have to light up radar guns to have success.
After dominating at Double-A Corpus Christi, Shirley, a 6-foot-5 left-hander, was promoted to the Oklahoma City RedHawks the week before the All-Star break.
“It’s sort of like (infielder) Kike Hernandez,” said RedHawks manager Tony DeFrancesco. “When you’re a ballplayer you find a way to get the job done. That’s how Kike got to the big leagues.
“There wasn’t much hype on Shirley. He’s not one of those really high draft picks and he’s been injured some, but he’s worked his way through the system. He just goes out and gets outs.”
Drafted in the ninth round out of Xavier, Shirley said he’s been told several times about a long list of players in the majors that weren’t selected in the first or second rounds.
“Not everyone in the majors was a top guy, but there are a lot of guys that took advantage of their opportunities, guys that proved they can play at the big league level,” Shirley said. “That’s the ultimate goal, but I try not to look ahead.”
The Oakland, Pa., product with an 88-to-90 mph fastball was dominant with Corpus Christi. He was among the Texas League leaders in nearly every category.
In 17 appearances with the Hooks, Shirley went 7-3 with a 1.88 ERA. He limited hitters to a .201 batting average and recorded 78 strikeouts.
“He’s very deceptive,” DeFrancesco said. “He hides the ball well throwing across his body, and he’s a strike-thrower. His first start with us (last week on the road), we didn’t see enough of his secondary pitches. That’s what we’re working with him on, trying to get a three-pitch combination working.”
Shirley, 25, has flown under the radar, partly because he’s only thrown 240 innings since he was drafted four years ago.
He pitched only 17 innings the year he was drafted. The following season, Shirley underwent arthroscopic knee surgery and pitched only 13 innings. Two years ago, he was moved to the bullpen before he was moved back into a rotation spot late last summer.
“I’ve thought I could do it the entire time, but it is rewarding to finally get the opportunity to do it for an entire season,” Shirley said. “The key for me is pitching inside, breaking a bat or two, getting a lot of ground balls.”
Shirley credits Corpus Christi manager Keith Bodie and Astros senior pitching advisor Doug Brocail for taking his game to another level.
“They taught me how important it is to concentrate, that you can learn something from every pitch,” Shirley said. “I’ve learned a lot this year, and it’s not just my game but even when other guys are pitching. I’ve learned a lot by watching others, then I apply those things I learned to my game.”
His “game” earned a selection to the Texas League All-Star Game. He’s pitched so well that he’s emerging as a viable prospect.
“Making the All-Star Game was one of my goals, that and to make it here (to Triple-A),” Shirley said. “Everything so far has worked out well, but something I learned along the way was to not look ahead, take it pitch by pitch.”
Shirley isn’t one of the Astros top 20 prospects but he could be next season if he continues to get outs with the RedHawks.
“It’s not like I was the last pick of the draft,” Shirley said. “I was still a top 10 (round) pick. You see it all the time. It’s not where you’re drafted; it’s taking advantage whenever you get the opportunity.
“I view (the promotion to Triple-A) as a reward for pitching well all season. It was really nice when they told me I was going up. Now I’ve just got to keep it going at this level.”