If Dalton Roach gets to the major leagues, he will have some stories to tell about the adversity he overcame to get there.
Those include starting his professional career in independent baseball before signing with the Cardinals as an undrafted free agent in 2019.
And how about being bitten by a bear after a face-to-face encounter while deer hunting last winter in rural Wisconsin?
More on that shortly.
As the Springfield Cardinals’ 2022 season hits the home stretch, Roach is becoming known for being more than the dude who survived the scary showdown with the wild animal.
Move to bullpen an opportunity, not a demotion
A starting pitcher most of his professional career, Roach has been flourishing in a bullpen role the second half of the season. He’s earned six saves with a 2.72 earned run average since moving to relief, with a sparking 40-to-4 strikeout-to-walk ratio.
“Overall, the season’s been a lot better lately,” Roach said Tuesday before the Cardinals faced San Antonio at Hammons Field to open the final home series of the season. “I was starting at the beginning of the year. It was kind of hit-and-miss. I had some good outings and some not-so-good outings.
“Once I got moved into the bullpen, it’s been a pretty good transition. I think I’ve thrown pretty well in this role so far. I think the biggest thing was to embrace it right away and not look at it like a demotion. I just looked at it as an opportunity.
“Go out and get outs. That’s how I approached it.”
Fastball key to his success
The 26-year-old right-hander has given a lift to a bullpen that has seen multiple pitchers serving as the closer, including Freddie Pacheco and Ryan Loutos, promoted to Triple-A Memphis this season.
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Brian Mahaffey has served as team physician for Missouri State and coordinator of medical services for the St. Louis Cardinals. Now he’s a member of the Springfield Area Sports Hall of Fame.
Roach has been able to utilize his fastball aggressively and go right after opposing hitters. Manager Jose Leger said Roach’s strike-throwing ability is natural in the closer’s role.
“He’s a pitcher that we trust,” Leger said. “He’s not afraid to go after hitters. He trusts his fastball and it really plays up in the strike zone. He does a good job of throwing strikes and we’ve been using him late in games and he’s been responding. He’s been good in that role.”
Adjusting his pre-game routine
Roach said the biggest adjustment he’s had to make is with the pre-game routine, with the mindset that he has to prepare as if he could pitch on any given day. There is less long-toss or high-intensity throwing before games.
The 6-foot-2, 218-pound former Minnesota State-Mankato standout started 19 times in 24 appearances for Springfield in 2021. This year, 25 of his 36 appearances have been in relief. That includes one inning in a brief call-up to Memphis.
“You definitely have to stay a lot more locked in day-in and day-out as a reliever,” he said. “You maybe lower the volume and do everything as efficiently as you can get it done. It changes up the days you do high-intent throwing.
“It’s more so kind of trying to save some bullets, while also working on what you need to work on. Say I’m not liking how my breaking ball is working, I need to hammer it out in about 10 throws today as opposed to if you’re a starter and can throw it all day and not worry about it.”
Relief pitching might be Roach’s path to St. Louis
If pitching in relief enhances Roach’s chances of getting to the big leagues, he’s all for it.
“It’s all about an opportunity,” he said. “What I’ve been able to do now is show myself as more of an all-around pitcher. I can come out and do long relief, I’ve done that before, I’ve been closing games here for a little while.
“I don’t have to label myself as just a starter or reliever. I’m just a pitcher. Whatever they need, I can go out and get it.”
A bear scare near Eau Claire
And if he is able to reach the big leagues, what a backstory he will have. Few opposing hitters, whether in the Texas League or National League, would seem to bother him compared to a furry foe from last October.
While bow hunting for deer near his Eau Claire, Wisconsin, home, a bear that Roach estimated at 250 pounds climbed the tree Roach was in. His stand was about 17-18 feet above the ground.
Roach first thought it was simply curious when the bear wandered to the tree. Things soon got more interesting when it began to climb the tree “like a big squirrel.” Roach had his cellphone camera rolling — until it reached the tree stand and leaned over the crouched Roach.
The bear took a nibble out of Roach’s back. The pitcher then stood up, trying to make himself appear big, and let out a yell in an attempt to scare the bear. It worked. The bear retreated and trotted away.
Roach still a hunter despite incident
As soon as it was out of sight, Roach made a run for civilization and then the emergency room, with a couple of puncture wounds that were treated.
The most painful part of the entire experience was 27 rabies shots — 22 of them directly into the wound.
“I’m not a big fan of needles,” he said Tuesday, laughing.
The incident didn’t keep Roach out of the woods later in the hunting season. The avid outdoorsman has plans to return to the deer woods again this fall — but with one addition to his arsenal.
A can of bear mace spray will be in his backpack from now on.
“I imagine now, the rest of my life now that I’m carrying it, I’ll never see another bear,” Roach said.
Cardinals’ final homestand
The Springfield Cardinals began their final homestand of the season on Tuesday night, losing to the San Antonio Missions 8-4 in the first of a six-game series. A look at the remaining schedule this week at Hammons Field:
Wednesday – 6:35 p.m. (Purina Woof Wednesday)
Thursday – 6:35 p.m. (Final Thursday Fireworks)
Friday – 6:35 p.m. (Camo Stocking Cap Giveaway)
Saturday – 6:05 p.m. (Stan Musial and Red Schoendienst Double Bobblehead Giveaway)
Sunday – 4:35 p.m. (Closing Day Fans on Field Fireworks)