This article also appears in the first edition of the Fresno Grizzlies Play Ball magazine that can be picked up for free by attending Opening Day on Thursday, April 9th. Purchase tickets to Opening Day or any other 2015 game here.
Written by Ryan Young
An outsider would tell you that right-handed pitcher Dan Straily wasn’t himself last year. However, Dan Straily would tell you that 2014 was all part of the natural progression of being a professional baseball player.
“It wasn’t like anything happened [injury wise],” stated the 26-year-old who split time between the Oakland Athletics and Chicago Cubs organization in 2014. “Sure it could’ve been the stress of built up innings over the years, but who knows what it was. Now I’ve got myself stronger and a lot closer to where I’ve always been.”
Where he’s been is someone that’s refused to play to the level he was drafted at. Taken by the Athletics in the 24th round of the 2009 First-Year Player Draft out of Marshall University, he moved through the system quickly and became a part of the big league rotation in his fourth professional season. He made 34 starts over a year plus for an Oakland squad that won back-to-back American League West Championships in 2012 and 2013. The Oregon native went 12-9 with a 3.94 ERA (84 ER/191.2) and 156 strikeouts during that stretch, along with making his first career postseason start (no decision), all before the age of 25.
The momentum continued into 2014 as through his first two starts he went 1-1 with a 2.77 ERA (4 ER/13.0 IP) and held opponents to only nine hits in 47 at bats (.191 average). But then came a road start at the Angels where he surrendered six runs and couldn’t get out of the fourth inning. Despite bouncing back by limiting opponents to three runs or less in his next four starts, the shock factor hit strong when the only organization he had known packaged him in a trade that sent him to the Cubs, along with a few other prospects, for Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel.
“It was a little disappointing because it was in the middle of the season, whereas this past trade [to the Astros organization] came during the offseason. It can be hard to pack up in the middle of a year and move. You get used to the routine, but it’s part of the ups and downs you go with.”
As the righty enters his seventh professional season, he seems better equipped to handle the rollercoaster a baseball season can bring. He sounds settled, focused, and at home after breaking his first camp with the Astros and being assigned to Triple-A Fresno. Straily spent a good amount of time the past two months even experimenting with a curveball in order to give him a four-pitch repertoire, thanks to a little push from Astros pitching coach Brent Strom.
“It’s part of my ongoing development. I’m always trying to find new ways to get guys out and [Strom] feels like it can be a weapon. It’s just kind of an experiment.”
Situated as one of the pillars of the Grizzlies rotation barring an early season callup, Straily can also lend a little guidance to a pitching staff that that features eight players his age or younger, including six guys who spent a majority of last season at the Double-A level.
“In terms of experience, I’ve been fortunate to have a little more than them. If one of them asks me something I’m definitely very open to talk to them about it, but I can’t ever talk to a first round guy about the pressures of what that means, because I was always an under the radar guy. I never had that high draft pick perception or any of that pressure put on me.”
Although he may not be able to relate and relay guidance at every turn, he can certainly tell these guys a thing or two about pitching in the Pacific Coast League due to his 36 career starts in the circuit. Thankfully, this season he pitches for Fresno as the righty was 3-0 with a 1.87 ERA (7 ER/33.2 IP) and 35 strikeouts over five career starts against the Grizzlies, including two wins in both of his starts at Chukchansi Park. That winning culture is something he’s been used to.
“From 2010-2013 I was in the playoffs and it’s a lot of fun and gives you more excitement to come to the ballpark at the end of the season. I think the winning mindset really has to start in the minor leagues. My time with Sacramento, it was never really talked about, but it was expectations we set on ourselves.”
Those expectations have been brought to a Fresno Grizzlies team that hasn’t reached the postseason since their inaugural season in 1998. With a 2015 squad armed with young prospects and determined players like Straily, hope and expectations have returned to an organization that had become used to ending their season on the final day of the regular season.
“All of us guys are in it together and we’ll definitely have fun in the clubhouse, but on the field it’ll be business time.”
One thing is for certain; the fans of the Central Valley can’t wait to see what that business time can produce.
See the Triple-A Fresno Grizzlies in action on Opening Day Thursday, April 9th at Chukchansi Park. Tickets are available now at the Chukchansi Park Box Office or online at FresnoGrizzlies.com. For questions, call 559.320.TIXS during normal business hours (Monday through Friday from 9:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m.).