Countdown to Indians’ Opening Day – 46 – Jon Edwards
Bob Toth | On 10, Feb 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
Countdown to Opening Day – 46 days
The number 46 was missing on the field for the Cleveland Indians for the last several years, but it got a quick cup of coffee in 2018 when Jon Edwards brought it back to the mound in his first big league action since 2015.
It was a long and uphill battle for the now 31-year-old right-hander, who last pitched with the San Diego Padres in 2015 before he found his way back to the Majors when the Indians brought him up as one of the club’s September call-ups last season. While he provided the Tribe with some mixed results, he has survived offseason moves that have trimmed some players off of the 40-man roster and he is still on pace to report to spring training at the team’s Goodyear, Arizona, complex this week.
Edwards signed with the Indians late in spring and debuted at the end of May with the Double-A Akron RubberDucks. He struck out 14 batters in his first nine outings (nine and two-thirds innings), allowing six hits and six walks while holding opposing hitters to a .176 average. After nearly a month with the ‘Ducks, he was promoted to Triple-A and spent the next two months with the Columbus Clippers, putting up good numbers overall. He earned two wins and four saves, held the opposition to a .204 average, and struck out 42 batters in 30 innings of work. He struck out all five outs retired in a June 27 loss to Louisville, but he walked one and the other two batters that he faced hit home runs. He struck out six of the seven men that he faced in a July 18 outing against Lehigh Valley. He struck out at least one batter in 21 of his 25 appearances with the Clippers.
Edwards got the call back to the Show as big league rosters expanded in September. His first three outings were shaky, as there were likely some nerves for Edwards to combat while pitching in front of significantly larger crowds than he had over the previous couple of years. He walked a pair and gave up a hit in his first outing, and he gave up home runs in his second and third appearances with the club as he allowed four runs in total in the two contests. But he settled down from there, giving up just one hit and two walks in his final six appearances while striking out six in five and one-third innings, including all three batters that he faced against the Chicago White Sox on September 20.
Combined over the three levels that he pitched at, Edwards held right-handed hitters to a .183/.254/.348 slash while striking out almost 40% of them. All five home runs he gave up on the year came against them. Left-handers found their way on base against him a little better, working a .215/.301/.323 line, with seven of the 14 hits that he allowed dropping in for doubles.
Edwards started his career in the St. Louis Cardinals organization as an outfielder, but despite showing some pop in the early years of his career, he piled up strikeouts and failed to hit for good average. He moved to independent ball in 2011 before signing with the Texas Rangers, which opted to move him to the mound. The transition worked out and he made his big league debut in 2014, pitching in nine games in relief. He made eleven appearances the following year at the MLB level for the Rangers and eleven more for the Padres after he was dealt by Texas as the player to be named later in the Will Venable trade.
Edwards missed nearly all of the 2016 season with a right flexor strain, making just one rehab appearance on the year, and after being non-tendered and re-signing with the Padres in the offseason, he sat out all of 2017 after experiencing forearm tightness in spring training and being cut towards the end of camp.
He will have a chance to win a job in the bullpen with the Indians this spring, as plenty of spots are up for grabs after significant turnover on the staff over the last two seasons.
Edwards was one of three different players to wear the number 46 for the Tribe last season, with all of them showing up on the mound. Veterans Matt Belisle and Oliver Drake were the other two, with the latter doing so with his second of five different clubs pitched for during the 2018 campaign. His suitcase lifestyle has continued this offseason, as he was claimed by Tampa Bay from Minnesota on waivers, then claimed by Toronto, then sold back to the Rays.
The number, not exactly the most popular number in baseball lore, had been absent from the diamond in Cleveland for quite a few years. It was last worn by utility man Cord Phelps during his time with the Indians from 2011 to 2013. As it bounced around the infield in his 53 games with the club, it marked a rare deviation from its usual home on the pitcher’s mound.
The number made its debut in the outfield in 1942, however, when Fabian Gaffke broke it in for the first time for the Tribe in what would be the final season of his career. Akron native Gene Woodling wore it the following season in eight games before he joined the war effort with the Navy. He would return to the Indians in 1946 and after time in Pittsburgh, New York, and Baltimore, he rejoined the Tribe for three more seasons from 1955 to 1957. He played his final big league games in 1962 and later worked as a scout for the club.
Dale Mitchell kept the number in the outfield when he debuted for the club in 1946 in eleven games. He would later wear 33, 34, and 3 for the Tribe into 1956 before joining the Brooklyn Dodgers to close out his eleven-year Major League career.
The number disappeared from use for 20 years before hitting the mound for the first time on the back of Dick Radatz, a former two-time American League All-Star with the Boston Red Sox. Radatz spent just two years in Cleveland, failing to earn a win in 42 relief appearances with a 4.68 ERA before moving on to the Chicago Cubs organization.
Forty-six continued to make appearances solely on the mound for the Indians, being shared by the likes of Steve Dunning, Mike Stanton, Mike Jeffcoat, Jim Kern, Doug Jones, and Jeff Kaiser until it made its triumphant return to the outfield under the use of Ryan Thompson, an outfielder in his fifth Major League season after four years with the New York Mets. The Indians had acquired him just prior to the start of the 1996 season as part of the Mark Clark trade, but his impact in Cleveland was minimal as he appeared in just eight games in a mid-September call-up, hitting .318 with six singles, a homer, and five RBI. He would sign with the Kansas City Royals in the offseason, but did return to Cleveland in 1997, spending a month and a half with the team before he was traded back to the club that drafted him in 1987, the Toronto Blue Jays, for Jeff Manto.
The number was back to the mound for the next four years (Jason Jacome, Jeff Tam, Paul Rigdon) before Marty Cordova sported it in 2001 while working in the Tribe outfield. A former 1995 American League Rookie of the Year while with the Minnesota Twins, he put up his best numbers since that debut season while in his lone season with the Indians, hitting .301 with 20 homers and 69 RBI at the age of 31.
After Cordova, seven men wore the 46 before Phelps – all pitchers. Ricardo Rodriguez and Jason Bere took it for much of the first half of the first decade of the 21st century before reliever Bob Howry’s impressive second year with the Indians during the 2005 season when he went 7-4 in 79 relief appearances with a 2.47 ERA and a 0.89 WHIP in, at the time, the most bullpen outings by a pitcher in club history.
The last of the pitchers to have it prior to the 2018 season was Tony Sipp, who bounced back and forth between the numbers 46 and 49 during his four seasons in an Indians uniform. He was 11-7 with a 3.68 ERA and a 1.26 WHIP during his time with the Tribe, but was part of the three-team trade involving Cincinnati and Arizona following the 2012 season that brought pitchers Trevor Bauer and Bryan Shaw and outfielder Drew Stubbs to Cleveland and notably sent outfielder Shin-Soo Choo to the Reds in the final year of his contract.
Photo: David Maxwell/Getty Images
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