FORT MYERS, Fla. — Tall and skinny, by his own admission he doesn’t much look or act like a baseball player. Given the season, there’s another profession that comes to mind.
“Well, I’m 6-5, 200 pounds. I look more like probably somebody that should be doing your taxes this time of year,” said Burke Badenhop.
Badenhop, a 31-year-old righthander, likely could do your taxes. He graduated magna cum laude from Bowling Green with a degree in economics. Actually, he is a baseball player.
It’s something he’s gotten accustomed to having to prove to people, including his teammates. The Red Sox acquired Badenhop in a November trade with the Brewers. The Sox are his fifth organization — fourth in as many seasons — since he was drafted by the Tigers in the 19th round in 2005. He’s gotten used to introducing himself. Lefthander Andrew Miller — at 6 feet 7 inches the one player in camp taller than Badenhop — and righthander Edward Mujica are the only teammates he knew previously.
“The first time was tough, the next time wasn’t as bad, and the third time is just old hat,” Badenhop said. “I was saying the other day to my wife how weird it would be to come back, like if I was back with the Brewers this year, not being the new guy, not having to learn everybody.”
Of course, there’s a silver lining.
“No. 1, you have a job. I’m very lucky,” he said. “I like to joke around that nobody wants me but everybody wants me. So, to be valued by teams in different ways, that’s definitely a silver lining. And to be able to go out and play baseball and do what I do and not really change necessarily who I am or what I do to try to keep pitching.
“I’m not for every team. I might have to do different things on different teams. But I think what I’m suited to do best is what these guys want me to do.”
In 280 major league games, including 10 starts, Badenhop has an 18-20 record and 3.98 ERA. A ground-ball pitcher, over the last two seasons, his first two full big league seasons, he has appeared in 129 games, posting a 3.25 ERA, with a 3.5 strikeout-to-walk ratio.
Badenhop has made five appearances this spring. In the first three, spanning three innings, he did not allow a run. Last Saturday, the Phillies touched him for three runs on four hits, and Wednesday night against the Pirates, he went two innings, yielding a run on three hits.
Badenhop has been pretty much what the Red Sox anticipated.
“A guy that’s going to pitch to contact, put the ball on the ground,” said manager John Farrell. “Even in his last outing there were some balls that found a hole, infield base hit. The linescore didn’t look maybe as typical or as he wanted. But we see the same type of action every time he comes to the mound. He’s been very dependable.”
Badenhop’s role is not yet defined.
“I see him early coming in, minimizing, either with the lead or a game on the line, early in the game when starters are struggling a little bit,” said pitching coach Juan Nieves. “Also, the usage of Mujica and [Junichi] Tazawa are critical. If they’re not available, then he moves up a little more in the line. But a multiple-inning guy definitely if we’re up by a lot, hopefully never down by a lot. So, I think those are specific places he could be, either situational or a multi-inning guy.”
The Sox will be looking for certain things from Badenhop between now and the end of camp.
“The consistency of being able to sink the ball,” said Nieves. “Never giving in, never leave pitches floating in the zone. His location is more [important] than stuff. Some guys you think, oh, stuff, let it lead. I think he’s more of a command guy. There’s a purpose for every pitch because you rely on command.”
Badenhop got a taste of the American League East with Tampa Bay in 2012 when he posted a career-high 66 appearances. He is looking forward to a return to the division.
“I think this will be a whole new beast because in Tampa you’re ever playing the underdog. And here you’re top dogs,” Badenhop said. “I never really got the recognition. People look and say, ‘Oh, you played for Milwaukee.’ But it’s like I actually got to the big leagues this year. They’re like, ‘Congratulations.’ I’ve been doing the same thing the last six years, but this year’s different. And, obviously, it is.”