Veteran hurler aiming for a better outcome during his latest stint in Pittsburgh
By Mike Bauman
BRADENTON, Fla. -- Ryan Vogelsong is highly motivated on an average day. That's who he is.
But here and now, in the Spring Training camp of the Pittsburgh Pirates, Vogelsong's motivation level is even more impressive. This is no accident.
Vogelsong is a 38-year-old pitcher coming to a team that had the second-best record in baseball in 2015, has the second-best record over the past three seasons and has qualified for the postseason three straight years.
"It's not even the numbers and the playoff appearances, but you just watch from the other side of the field the way they play the game," Vogelsong said on Sunday at the Pirate City complex. "You know when you come to play these guys, or they come to your place, you're going to be in for a battle. I feel like that's how I like to model my game. When I'm on the mound, you're going to get everything I've got, for as long as I'm out there. I feel that's the way this team is, and it was very appealing to come here for that reason."
Vogelsong was most recently with the Giants, where he was an integral part of two World Series championships. But 15 years ago, the Giants, who drafted him, traded him to the Pirates. The next five seasons did not go well for Vogelsong.
"I was not really happy [with] the way things went for me in my Pirates career the first time around," Vogelsong said. "We all know that we don't get a lot of second chances in this life to redo things, and do something differently than before. I thought about that, too, coming back here and changing from the way my first Pirates experience went.
"I'll be honest with you. The first time I was here, I really didn't have much of a clue what I was doing. I was a thrower. I tried to throw everything as hard as I could, and I didn't really know how to pitch yet. It got tough at times, especially with some of the teams we were facing in our division at that point. They beat us up pretty bad. But that experience helped me down the road, and it's still helping me now. People ask me if I wish that had gone differently. No. That helped shape the way I pitch now, and that helped shape the person that I am."
For the Bucs, Vogelsong, a free agent this offseason, appeared as a less-expensive starting-rotation alternative to Charlie Morton, whom they traded to the Phillies. They also understood Vogelsong's motivation. Although 2015 was a down season for him, they believed that he could recapture his better form.
"Ryan had a very strong stretch [for] about one-half of the season, two-thirds of the season, then had some difficult stretches, as most pitchers do," said Pirates general manager and senior vice president Neal Huntington. "We saw some good things, we saw some things we thought we could help him with.
"He's hungry. He's driven. He wants to come back. And not everybody wants to come back to where they struggled before. He's hungry, and he's fired up to come back and help this group."
More reasons for motivation are on the way.
"I feel like the perception might be that people think I'm just coming here to ride out the end of a career," Vogelsong said. "That's not the case. I'm coming here with every expectation of having a great season and continuing to play this game as long as I can. I know that's not handed to you. You have to go out and show people that you can still pitch -- and pitch effectively -- before you get another chance to pitch. I'm very motivated in that aspect. I still want to play this game."
That gets us to yet another reason for the veteran hurler to be motivated. Vogelsong, who has been around the block, is expected to be a leader in every regard.
"I expect to come in here and pitch great," said Vogelsong. "I expect to come in here and help lead and set a good example and do everything you're supposed to do to win ballgames and be a good teammate.
"I've seen both sides. I've seen the guys that are only worried about themselves, and I've seen the guys that when it's their day, they take care of their business; and every other day, they try to help out as much as possible. I feel like the second guy is the way to be."
This is a pitcher who has seen the lows and the highs. After his first stint with the Pirates, Vogelsong pitched in Japan before returning to San Francisco and becoming an All-Star pitcher and a member of two World Series championship teams.
"The days when I was pitching in a Minor League game in Japan, I never thought that would ever happen to me," Vogelsong said of the championships. "So I'm very fortunate and blessed that it did. I learned a lot from a lot of different people in my five years in San Francisco."
At this point, Vogelsong names a large portion of the Giants' roster over the past five seasons. He certainly learned about being a good teammate. And he learned about the stuff that doesn't show up in the box score.
"I watched a [Giants] team in 2012 basically will [itself] to a division title and then will ourselves through a postseason run to a championship," said Vogelsong. "You talk about intangibles; that's another thing. What's in your heart? How deep can you dig? The other thing about that team was how it came together. I saw guys playing for the guy next to them, instead of themselves.
"Obviously, you need guys to come up with big performances. But you also need guys who play for each other. And I see guys in this room who do that. That's huge."
The second time around could be much better, both for the Bucs and Vogelsong.
Mike Bauman is a national columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.