Robert Rohrbaugh sat in an airport in Arizona Thursday, still in shock, waiting for one of the lonelier jet rides of his life.
Only hours earlier, the seventh-year Seattle Mariner prospect was interrupted at his locker, and told to report to the team’s minor league director.
“I knew what was coming then and there,” he said. “It was a walk of death up to his office.”
For the first time since being selected in the seventh round of the MLB 2005 Amateur Draft, the southpaw from Littlestown found himself unemployed. He headed back last night to begin a more uncertain part of his career – looking for his next opportunity.
“I’m a little shocked that it happened but in a way I think this is the best thing for me,” he said. “I wasn’t going anywhere with the Mariners. I need a fresh start somewhere else.”
Rohrbaugh’s agent began putting out feelers yesterday, and the Mariners were also contributing to his cause, letting other teams know of his availability. Because he was not part of the 40-man roster, no free-agent period is necessary for Rohrbaugh to become an outright free agent.
In the final year of his contract, Rohrbaugh knew the 2011 season had the potential to make or break his career with the organization. Spring training felt promising for the 27-year-old who finished his last outing with two shutout innings while being shuffled to the Major League camp a few times for back-up duty.
In 2010, Rohrbaugh finished his first complete season pitching out of the bullpen, a move that was triggered by a shoulder injury that kept him out for parts of the 2008 and 2009 seasons.
After a full recovery, Rohrbaugh’s fastball returned to its mid-to-upper 80-mile-per hour speed, and the lefty made 31 appearances, throwing 73 innings. He finished the season with a 3.70 ERA, 1.28 WHIP and 62 strikeouts to 11 walks. His record was 4-2 with the West Tennessee Diamond Jacks, the Mariners’ Class AA affiliate.
In his six-year minor league career that he began as a starter, Rohrbaugh made 94 starts, earning a 45-26 record. His career ERA sits at 3.53, his WHIP at 1.26 and strikeout-to-walk ratio at 3.2-1.
“The good thing is that I have some numbers to back myself up,” he said. “If there’s anyone looking up for a lefty with a 3.50 ERA, I’m available.”
In their parting words, the Mariners told Rohrbaugh they didn’t think he’d have a problem finding a job elsewhere in the league. In 2008, Seattle fired general manager Bill Bavasi who was the GM when Rohrbaugh was drafted. Jack Zduriencik took his place, making several moves to establish a new direction.
“I think the timing of my injury was probably the worst part about it,” Rohrbaugh said of his 2008 shoulder woes. “With a new regime, and a new GM, I just wasn’t one of their guys anymore. Hopefully there are bigger and better things down the road to come.”
Now Rohrbaugh will play the waiting game, hoping another team notices the life in his fastball, change-up and reinvented knuckle-curve.
“I’m a little mad, but they gave me an opportunity so I can’t be that upset with them,” he said of the Mariners’ organization. “I left on good terms with all the coaches and they have my back. I can contact them for a reference.
“Right now I’m kind of anxious to get home and be with family and friends. It’s not as bad as everyone’s going to think it’s going to be. This is actually good for me.”
Adam Michael can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org