The Mack Report

Ryan O’Rourke Embraces Role as Lefty-Specialist

Ryan O'Rourke

Former Merrimack pitcher Ryan O’Rourke (above) is dominating left-handed batters at Double-A as a left-on-left reliever in the Minnesota Twins organization

Unless you’re the highest-end prospect, the type that signs a contract with a multi-million dollar signing bonus, the life of a minor-league baseball player lacks much glitz and glamor.

Former Merrimack pitcher Ryan O’Rourke knows all about that. He’s in the midst of his fourth season as part of the Minnesota Twins organization; the Twins drafted him in the 13th round of the MLB Draft in 2010.

Before this season, O’Rourke talked with some members of the Twins’ front office in order to find out what they saw in his future.

“I didn’t want to just be spinning my tires in the minors for the next 10 years,” O’Rourke said. “I wanted to know what they saw in me and what they thought I could be. They were really honest and told me that they thought I could be a really effective left-on-left reliever.”

O’Rourke is a 6-foot-3 left-handed pitcher.

“A lot of that role is going to involve coming into games in high-pressure situations,” he said. “Maybe we’re up one run in the ninth with one guy out and a man on second and I’m coming in just to get one guy out. There’s no second chances or ‘I’ll get the next one,’ my job some nights is to get one guy out.”

After starting his pro career as a starter, O’Rourke is preparing for that role as a left-on-left reliever in Double-A this season, pitching for the New Britain Rock Cats of the Eastern League.

If this summer is any indication, he’s well on his way.

O’Rourke has posted a 4.10 earned-run average this season, but it’s his numbers against left-handers that really pop out. He’s faced 68 batters from the left side this season and has struck out 41 of them, allowing just six hits and walking only three batters. Of the 59 outs he has recorded against left-handed batters, almost 70 percent have been strike outs.

Left-handed hitters are batting just .092 against O’Rourke this season.

“I rely on my catcher a lot,” O’Rourke said. “We’re actually roommates, so we’re always talking about hitters and how we’re going to approach guys. I throw lefties a lot of breaking balls now, a lot of sliders, curveballs and cutters, and that’s something I never really had to do before.

“My first few years as a starter really helped me develop those pitches. At Merrimack I just basically threw fastballs. It’s all I had to do. When I was a starter when I first got drafted I worked on adding a changeup, which I don’t think I ever threw at Merrimack. I could overpower a lot of guys with my fastball so I didn’t need anything else, but my breaking ball especially has helped get out lefties.”

O’Rourke has run the gamut as a pitcher. While dominating at Merrimack for much of his collegiate career, he was a starter and even closed games on some his off days.

“I never really had a schedule, it was always just, when my arm felt better, I went out and threw what I could,” he said.

He started 22 games in his first two seasons – he made 17 starts in his first full pro season in Single-A – and didn’t become a full-time reliever until last season in Double-A. He’s kept up his power, striking out 310 career batters in exactly 310 minor-league innings.

“If you get drafted you’re going to be good at baseball,” O’Rourke said. “What helps you get to the next level is the mental aspect. A lot of it, especially for me in this role, is learning how to pretty much only pitch in high-pressure situations. In that way, Merrimack really helped me prepare for that. When Coach (Joe) Sarno would ask me to get some outs on days I didn’t start, those weren’t mop-up games. Those were all high-pressure spots, so mentally it feels very much the same and has helped me for sure.”

You’ll still find O’Rourke at Merrimack in the offseason, getting in some training and getting to as many sporting events as he can.

As a recent alum, he’s been awestruck at the improvements on the campus since he graduated only four years ago.

“Some guys in my class, we’ve joked that we were born four years too early,” he said. “I would absolutely, 100 percent do it all over again. Right now, if I was being recruited and I was offered a D-I scholarship or Merrimack, I’d definitely go to Merrimack. The improvements they made with the facilities is unbelievable and the baseball team, I definitely still follow them and they were close two years ago to getting that NE-10 title. It’s not far away.”

New Britain is only a few miles away from Hartford. The Rock Cats’ season will end on Sept. 1.

“I’ll be back home (near Worcester) in the offseason,” O’Rourke said. “I’ll get a job, hopefully I can nail one down soon, and work for the winter while training and getting ready for the spring. My goal is to play at the highest level. It’s one step at a time.”