23-year-old Victorian Josh Spence, just the 29th Australian to ever play in the Major Leagues, has made an impressive start to his career after being called on to pitch the final inning of the San Diego Padres thumping 11-2 win over the Atlanta Braves on Saturday (Australian time).
In his debut appearance, Spence was summoned by Padres manager ‘Bud’ Black as a relief pitcher at the top of the ninth inning and quickly closed out the game by retiring three of the games best hitters, in 2010 All Star Jason Heyward, six-time All Star Chipper Jones and five-time All Star Brian McCann.
Spence then backed up his impressive debut in the second game of the series, pitching the seventh inning and retiring Brooks Conrad, Jordan Schafer and Jason Heyward, with the first two being via strikeouts.
Not content after retiring six batters from six attempts, Spence continued his dream start in game three when called upon to pitch the sixth inning. He started by once again striking-out Jordan Schafer before retiring Jason Heyward for a third time and Chipper Jones to close out the inning. He then struck-out Freddie Freeman in the seventh inning before being replaced by Chad Qualls.
In total, Spence has now retired all ten batters he has faced in his first three games, an outstanding achievement for any player let alone one so young. In addition to this, the Padres won the three-match series 2-1, improving on what had been a disastrous season which had seen them win just 31 of 75 games prior to facing Atlanta.
Spence, who hails from Grovedale, just south of Geelong, was promoted from the Padres’ Minor League affiliate San Antonio Missions last week after an impressive start to the 2011 season which saw him pitch 47.1 innings in 35 games, producing an ERA of just 1.71. In addition to this, Spence struck-out an impressive 42 batters during his time with San Antonio.
Spence, who was cheered on by a group of almost 50 Australians touring with the under-16 and under-18 national teams, said some words of advice from Padres teammate Heath Bell helped calm his nerves when the call up to the big leagues came.
“Heath told me before the game just keep your hat down, just get out there and pitch, then enjoy the moment. It was great advice!”
The Padres are currently ahead 1-0 against the Kansas City Royals, in the two side’s best-of-three game series in San Diego. Spence was rested in game one however is set to be called upon in either games two or three. Despite their recent improvements, the Padres still have a poor record which reads 35 wins & 45 losses, so they will be hoping Spence’s (and their) hot form continues.