Is it just me, or are Giants fans getting a little spoiled with the no-hitters and perfect games and near-misses in recent years? After a no-hitter drought that lasted 33 years, since John “The Count” Montesfusco blanked the Braves in 1976, the Giants have now had two no-hitters and one perfect game in the past five seasons. Jonathan Sanchez snapped the no no-no streak in 2009, then Matt Cain pitched a perfecto in 2012, and then Tim Lincecum threw another no-hitter this past July. Last Friday, they were exactly one out away from number four. Instead of a strikeout artist like Sanchez or Lincecum, or an ace like Cain, the pitcher in question who came devastatingly close to perfection this time was one Yusmeiro Petit. This time last week, before Friday’s game, I think baseball fans everywhere would have joined me in a chorus of “who”?
In just his third start of the season, Petit came within one Eric Chavez dunk single of becoming the 24th pitcher in major league history to throw a perfect game, and just the second Giants’ pitcher ever to do it. Petit’s flirtation with history was unexpected, to say the least. Petit is a 28-year-old journeyman who was dropped from the 40-man roster twice by the Giants this season, a guy who had made all of one major league start since 2009 before this season. He was a complete afterthought, and only found his way into the starting rotation this season because the free-falling Giants were desperate for a warm body on the mound after Matt Cain got hurt and Barry Zito became more cannon fodder than man.
Then came last Friday, when Petit dazzled the Diamondbacks and got the baseball world noticing him again. In that start, Petit utilized a hard-dropping changeup and pinpoint control to get the best of the Arizona hitters, retiring the first 26 batters in a row before heartbreakingly allowing a single on a 3-2 pitch to Chavez. The great control was characteristic of his performance in the minor leagues the past couple of years, and he’d used that command to succeed so far in a small sample of innings this year. So who is Yusmeiro Petit, and why is he suddenly channeling the pitching exploits of Don Larsen?
Do you want to feel old? Well, you might when you realize that Petit was once the major piece going to the then-Florida Marlins when they traded Carlos Delgado to the Mets…way back in 2005. That’s right, Petit was a former Mets pitching prospect who was cashed in for the slugging Delgado after the Mets had grown tired of a year of Doug Mientkiewicz at first base. He was a bit of a polarizing prospect back in that day, with scouts skeptical of his less-than-dominant repertoire, while statheads were optimistic that his eye-opening strikeout numbers (12.9 K/9 in A-ball in 2004) would translate to major league effectiveness.
Well, the scouts won that one. Once Petit joined the Marlins’ system in 2006, his strikeout rate dipped and the team only thought enough of him to give him a cup of coffee out of the bullpen that year, and he was pretty much a disaster. The Marlins then traded Petit to the Diamondbacks for Jorge Julio the following year, and Petit was tasked with trying to succeed as a fly ball pitcher in a homer-happy ballpark. It didn’t go well.
In 203 innings with the Dbacks, from 2007-2009, Petit gave up a gruesome 43 home runs, leading to a 5.05 ERA. His strikeout numbers weren’t all that bad, but it didn’t matter because seemingly every other pitch was flying over the wall. It became very clear that the scouting community’s worst fears, that Petit’s crafty four-pitch assortment wouldn’t fool major league hitters, were coming true. After seventeen terrible starts in 2009, the Diamondbacks finally gave up on him and he entered the Quadruple-A wilderness.
Petit spent one inauspicious season with Seattle’s AAA club, then spent all of 2011 in the Mexican League. It looked like curtains for his major league career until the Giants threw him a non-roster invitation to Spring Training last year, to essentially act as an insurance policy in case a starter got hurt. He made 28 solid starts for Fresno in 2012, exhibiting good control while keeping his home run troubles in check, and was eventually given a spot start with the big club in September, when the team wanted to rest Tim Lincecum.
He once again was an afterthought this season, and struggled in Fresno this time, but desperate times called for the Giants to plug him into the starting rotation and he’s been pretty effective in four starts thus far. His near-perfecto put his name on the map once again and, even if he doesn’t pitch like Cy Young down the stretch, he’s all but guaranteed himself a shot at the fifth starter battle next spring. The Giants might be tempted to go with a higher-ceiling pitcher like Michael Kickham next year, but the way Petit has impressed this past month, he might have given himself the inside track. With the Giants’ 2014 pitching outlook loaded with uncertainties, the Giants may once again have stumbled upon a cheap, reliable starter to bolster their rotation.