Countdown to Indians’ Opening Day – 70
Bob Toth | On 17, Jan 2019
Major League Baseball will kick off the 2019 season with its earliest start ever (excluding international openers) as all 30 teams will take the field on March 28. Follow along with Did The Tribe Win Last Night as we count down the days until Opening Day 2019. – BT
The Indians introduced a pair of new numbers to the ball diamond last season, adding 70 and 90 to the list of digits worn for the city of Cleveland.
While rookie Adam Cimber wore his number 90 in 28 games for the club after coming over in the July 31 deal that brought All-Star closer Brad Hand to town and sent top prospect Francisco Mejia to the sunny shores of San Diego, the number 70 had a much smaller cup of coffee for the Tribe at Progressive Field. George Kontos, who is just one of seven players to wear the number 70 for more than one season on a Major League mound, brought his seven-plus years of experience to the Indians when they acquired him just days after being given his release from the Pittsburgh Pirates.
The right-handed relief option brought previous success on the big league stage and a World Series ring with him after concluding a 36-game tour with the Pirates over parts of the 2017 and 2018 season. A former fifth round pick by the New York Yankees in the 2006 draft out of Northwestern, Kontos made it to the Majors (after a 2010 Rule 5 selection by the San Diego Padres) with the Bombers in 2011, appearing in seven games before being dealt in early April of 2012 to San Francisco for catcher Chris Stewart.
Kontos blossomed in the Giants’ bullpen as a middle relief option for manager Bruce Bochy in what was still technically his rookie season. He appeared in 44 games, posting a 2.47 ERA and a 1.05 WHIP in 43 2/3 innings while averaging just over a strikeout per inning. A late bloomer at the age of 27, he saw work in all three series of San Francisco’s postseason. He made four scoreless appearances in the National League Division Series against the Cincinnati Reds. He worked three times in the National League Championship Series against the St. Louis Cardinals, retiring the only batter he faced in Game 1 and 3 before allowing two runs on two hits in two-thirds of an inning in the Giants’ Game 4 loss. He was tagged for two more runs and retired just one man in the ninth inning of San Fran’s Game 1 win against Detroit in the World Series as the Giants went on to sweep the Tigers.
Kontos saw his numbers plump up a bit in 2013 (4.39 ERA, 1.41 WHIP) and spent some time at Triple-A Fresno, but he got back on track over the next couple of seasons. He went 4-0 with a 2.78 ERA in 24 games in limited MLB work and was sharp in 30 minor league games for the Grizzlies, then was strong with a 4-4 mark and a 2.33 ERA in 73 games of action for the Giants in 2015. He was 3-2 in 2016 with a 2.53 ERA in 57 games.
The 2017 season was more difficult for Kontos as he saw the mound 50 times for the Giants, going 0-5 with five blown saves. He was placed on waivers and was claimed by the Pirates on August 5 of that season. He was a bit more effective for Pittsburgh, posting a 1.84 ERA and a 0.86 WHIP in 15 games there.
Last season, he got off to another rough start. He went 2-3 for the Buccos in 21 games with a 5.03 ERA and a 1.42 WHIP, averaging his highest hit rate and low strikeout rates of his career. Kontos was given his release and signed with Cleveland on June 3 (one day after the club added free agent southpaw Oliver Perez in an on-going effort by the club to fix the beleaguered bullpen). Kontos reported to Triple-A Columbus and looked good in six outings there, striking out six and not issuing a walk in seven and two-thirds scoreless innings of work.
Just over two weeks after inking his contract with Cleveland, Kontos got the call to head back to the Bigs. Evan Marshall, who had been brought up himself from Columbus in May for a bullpen audition, landed on the 10-day disabled list with right elbow inflammation, creating another void on the staff.
Kontos made an interesting debut with the Indians on June 20 against the Chicago White Sox, working a scoreless inning of what could only be called an effectively wild outing. He retired all three outs via strikeout while walking two other hitters. His next time out on June 22 against the Tigers, he threw nine of ten pitches for strikes in a quick 1-2-3 inning.
Kontos’ time with Cleveland did not stay smooth for long, as he was hit hard against a familiar Cardinals team during a road trip to St. Louis. He gave up a run on two hits on June 25, then allowed a solo homer the following day. He made two more appearances for the Indians after that, retiring the only batter that he faced against Oakland on June 30 before working a perfect eighth inning versus Kansas City on July 2.
Carlos Carrasco’s return from the disabled list spelled doom for Kontos, as he was designated for assignment to make room for the veteran right-hander. He was outrighted back to Columbus on July 8 and pitched well overall for the Clippers in his second stint there (allowing three runs on eleven hits with no walks and eight strikeouts in 12 2/3 innings over eleven games for the club), but he did not return to Cleveland in 2018. Instead, he was shipped in early August to the New York Yankees for cash considerations. He made one appearance for the Yankees after working in three games for their Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre affiliate, then was designated for assignment again and outrighted back to the minors, where he closed out his 2018 with five more relief outings in the regular season and two more in the postseason for the RailRiders.
Kontos, now 33, became a free agent following the season and remains on the open market for interested clubs looking for a possible reclamation project with some successful seasons under his belt.
Photo: Getty Images
*** ** * ** ***
Miss out on our other Countdown pieces? Check out more Indians history below.
Countdown to Indians’ Opening Day – 99
Countdown to Indians’ Opening Day – 90 – Adam Cimber
Countdown to Indians’ Opening Day – 88
Countdown to Indians’ Opening Day – 77
Countdown to Indians’ Opening Day – 76
Countdown to Indians’ Opening Day – 75
Countdown to Indians’ Opening Day – 73
Countdown to Indians’ Opening Day – 72
Countdown to Indians’ Opening Day – 71