At the University of Maine, Tommy Lawrence was a tireless starting pitcher who was at his best in the late innings.
In his first professional season, he’s a late-inning guy as well. But he’s just getting started.
Lawrence is pitching for the Tampa Bay Rays’ Gulf Coast League team. Recently, he entered a game against the Twins’ rookie-level team with nobody out, the bases loaded and the Rays up by four runs.
He struck out the first hitter, got the next to ground into a double play and followed with a 1-2-3 frame.
“I haven’t really been throwing that much because they don’t want me to overdo it after pitching all spring for Maine,” Lawrence said from Port Charlotte, Florida, where the Rays team is based. “You never know when you’re going to pitch. But it’s cool to come in with the game on the line.”
Lawrence, a native of West Haven, Connecticut, went 8-5 with a 3.18 ERA and 97 strikeouts in 105 innings as a senior at Maine. Then he waited for his name to be called in the Major League Baseball draft. Around the 40th round, growing dismayed not to be chosen, Lawrence got a call from the Rays saying they intended to sign him as a free agent.
“I’ve got to work my tail off and prove myself again, like I’ve had to do my whole life. I still get to live out my dream of being a professional baseball player.”
Lawrence has appeared in just 10 games for a team that has used 29 pitchers. He has a win, three saves and a 3.26 ERA. The season ends Thursday.
The Rays are known for developing pitchers, and Lawrence said that’s evident every day when he arrives at the ballpark at 7 a.m. The coaches stress pitching down in the strike zone. They’ve had him eliminate his slider and cut fastball, and concentrate on throwing three pitches effectively – a fastball, curveball and changeup.
His curveball has been his strikeout pitch. He’s racked up 16 of those in 19 innings.
The changeup is new. Lawrence said he probably threw two changeups in four years at Maine.
“They’re obviously a team that builds on pitching. They stay with who they draft and who they sign. They aren’t going to be out signing Robinson Cano for $240 million (as the Mariners did),” Lawrence said of the Rays.
“You can see it, too, even in the young kids that they have developed from the Dominican Republic, the way that they attack down in the zone.”
Lawrence will use the winter to rest back home in Connecticut. Next spring, he’ll try to take the next step, which is to make the Rays’ Class A team in Bowling Green, Kentucky.
“I’m basically getting the same feedback I got in school,” he said. “I’m competitive when I get in games and I have that bulldog mentality.”