DUNEDIN, Fla. — Kyle Drabek makes Detroit Tigers manager Jim Leyland feel old.
Drabek’s father, Doug, was a stalwart of the starting rotation when Leyland managed the Pittsburgh Pirates and won the 1990 National League Cy Young Award.
Kyle Drabek was four when his father last pitched for the Pirates and doesn’t remember being in the clubhouse as a child. Leyland remembers him.
Drabek, the pitching prospect who was the key player in the trade that sent Roy Halladay to the Philadelphia Phillies in December, made his Toronto Blue Jays spring-training debut against Leyland’s Tigers on Thursday. He allowed three hits and two runs and struck out three in two innings of relief and had most of his trouble when he left his fastball up.
“I went up to (Leyland) and talked to him (Thursday) and he said he remembers me hanging around the clubhouse and being on a few planes and stuff,” Drabek said on Friday at Dunedin Stadium. “I wish I could remember it. I was way too young for that.”
When Leyland was asked how it made him feel when he saw Drabek’s name on the list of opposing pitchers for Thursday’s game, he said, smiling, “Old. I managed his dad. He was one of the best pitchers in baseball at that time.”
Drabek was 92-62 with a 3.02 earned-run average from 1987 through 1992 with the Pirates. His final season was 1998 with the Baltimore Orioles.
The Blue Jays hope for more of the same from his son, also a right-hander, who was the Phillies’ first-round pick and the 18th player taken overall in the 2006 draft.
But first Drabek will have to work his way up.
He finished last season in Double-A and figures to start there with his new organization unless his performance shows he could open the season at a higher level.
The Phillies did not want to part with Drabek at the trade deadline last July when a deal for Halladay was discussed. They relented in December. They also sent the Blue Jays catching prospect Travis d’Arnaud and outfield prospect Michael Taylor, who was moved to the Oakland Athletics for infielder Brett Wallace.
Blue Jays manager Cito Gaston said his counterpart with the Phillies gave Drabek a solid endorsement.
“Charlie Manuel told me you’ve got a real good pitcher there,” Gaston said.
General manager Alex Anthopoulos has mentioned his fiery competitiveness and Drabek agrees he gets it from his father.
“Definitely,” he said. “He doesn’t like to show it but when we do stuff around the house, play golf, or anything competitive, if start beating him it comes out a little bit. I definitely got that from him although my mom is kind of fiery too.”
Drabek said his father helped him as a developing baseball player.
“He was able to help us out a lot, me and my brother,” Drabek said. “When we hit the age of 11 and 12 and were in Little League and stuff that’s when he retired and he was around a lot.
“He would work with us at home and work with us on the field. I think having him around helped us out a lot.”
Drabek just wishes he had listened to his father more when he talked about the mental aspects of the game as he did about the physical aspects of the game.
“He kind of let us do our own but if there was something that he knew was wrong with what we were doing, he’d help us out,” he said. “Mentally, it was kind of hard to listen to it when we were younger but right now if I could go back, I’d starting listening to him about the mental part of it.”
Reconstructive elbow surgery, known as Tommy John surgery, forced him to miss most of the 2008 season. He went 1-3, 2.23 in eight starts split between the rookie Gulf Coast League and short-season A Williamsport that year.
He opened 2009 at advanced-A Clearwater (4-1, 2.48 in 10 outings, nine starts, and 61 2/3 innings), he pitched 96 1/3 innings in going 8-2, 3.64 in 15 games, 14 starts, for Reading in the Double-A Eastern League.
The surgery might have been a hidden blessing for Drabek. It resulted in an improved work ethic and better pitching mechanics that improved his control.
“I’d never been injured before that and you know I didn’t think I could get injured,” he said. “And then as soon as it happened I realized it can happen and can happen again and I’ve got to take care of my body.”
As for his mechanics, he uses the Tigers’ Dontrelle Willis as an example of how he used to throw.
“I was watching Dontrelle (Thursday) and I kind of had a similar windup where I’d turn my whole back and just kind of whip it,” he said. “After (the surgery) I was kind of straight up and down, just normal and that’s definitely helped with my control.”
As for his own performance on Thursday, he said he knew what went wrong.
“Every single hit I gave up, my fastball was up. I’ve got to work on keeping my fastball down and hit my spots a little better.”
And have fun. He said the biggest piece of advice his father gave him was: “Just have fun, it’s a game, it’s what you love to do.”