DETROIT — You could look at the way the Rays have repeatedly called up, sent down and basically jerked around reliever Louis Head this season and think it’s ridiculously unfair.
Eleven times the right-hander has been called up from the minors, and 10 times — for now — he has been sent back down, usually in less than a week, despite pitching well.
Or you could look at it the way Head does.
Despite the frustrations, disruptions and professional and personal inconveniences, pitching in the big leagues for the first time at age 31 — after 10 years in the minors and a lot of thought about giving up — is “a blessing,” as well as an opportunity to cherish and relish every time up.
“You can definitely let it get to you,” Head said. “And I’m not going to lie and say it’s been perfect every time and I’m happy about the decisions. Obviously we all want to be up here, we all want to be in the major leagues.
“But sometimes I have to take a step back and realize where I was at last year or where I was at the year before, and even the previous nine years. I’m in a far better spot this year than I’ve ever been in my life. So just realizing that makes it a lot easier process. And then it keeps me focused on what I need to do.”
Which is to keep pitching well, as his 2.67 ERA over 23 games (through Monday) and his 27 strikeouts vs. nine walks in 30 1/3 innings show.
The fact that he has done so despite the literal up-and-down path of his season — plus the logistical hassles of getting packed up, at times on short notice, to catch a flight and to find a way to get wife Jenny to the next city (ideally booking her on the same flight) — is even more impressive.
“He’s done a hell of a job with it, honestly,” teammate Ryan Yarbrough said.
Andrew Kittredge has some idea what Head is dealing with, having served five stints with the Rays in 2018.
“It can be very hard,” he said. “It’s tough because at times you can’t help but think like, ‘Is today the day I’m going to have to get on a flight and go somewhere?’ … It’s a grind mentally just as much as it is physically. So the fact that he’s done what he’s done having had that happen, as much as he has, has been pretty impressive.”
Pitching coach Kyle Snyder said it takes a special kind of person to handle the challenges and acknowledges that a player with prior time in the majors might not be as understanding and accommodating as Head.
“He’s an extremely grounded individual that’s allowed him to take some of the rotation and turnstile better than most,” Snyder said.
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“I think he’s also probably somewhat appreciative, obviously, of the opportunity. There isn’t a day that goes by that he doesn’t allude to that. So I think that’s kind of helped him balance a little bit of that, given how well he’s pitched and obviously undeserving of going down a lot of times based on his productivity. But I also think he understands the situation pretty well, too.”
Head attributes that perspective to his venture into the real world last offseason when he thought his pitching career might be over and he started selling solar panels to homeowners in Arizona.
“You deal with a lot of failure there,” Head said. “Even more failure than in this game. I mean, you can go knock on 1,000 doors and not make a sale. So learning to deal with that mentally has helped me out a lot this year.”
That is how he handles getting a call saying he has 45 minutes to pack up at his Durham apartment (he stays at a hotel when with the Rays in St. Pete), stop by the Bulls stadium to grab his equipment and get to the airport, which is about 20 minutes away.
Or deals with the time he and Jenny drove seven hours after a series in Jacksonville back to Durham only to get word as they arrived that he was headed off to meet the Rays in Boston.
Or copes with how he was sent down after one game against the Sox and decided to take a day off in Boston (players get three days to report) before going back to Durham, then was told he instead was rejoining the team and going to Detroit and Toronto.
“You don’t know when that phone call is going to be,” Head said. “You can’t ever plan for the timing. You’ve just got to always be ready.”
All the hassles do come with a financial benefit.
Head has a split contract, meaning he gets different salaries based on being in Triple-A ($108,000) or in the big leagues ($575,000). So paid over 186 days (season span), Head gets $581 daily in the minors and $3,091 in the majors.
At 55 days with the Rays through Tuesday, Head has earned more than $170,000.
For context? “I’ve made more money this year,” he said, “than I did my first 10 years (combined).”
Which helps Head deal with his one major regret about this season.
“Everybody asks me — I still have yet to set up frequent flyer miles,” he said. “Man, if I would have got that in the beginning of the year, I’d probably have a free flight or two. But, you know, maybe (being in) the big leagues will help pay for those flights in the offseason.”
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