For a guy who was new in town a few months ago, Winnipeg Goldeyes pitcher Matt Rusch has wasted no time making himself right at home.
Rusch, a New York native who moved to Winnipeg prior to training camp to be with his girlfriend after her job transfer, is having what may be the best season of his professional baseball career.
With an 8-2 win-loss record, the 29-year-old is the American Association leader in earned run average at 2.48 and has been the staff leader for most of the season.
Expected to start today against the St. Paul Saints at 6 p.m. at Shaw Park, Rusch is second in the league in strikeouts with 89 and could crack the Goldeyes' top-five mark for strikeouts in a single season.
"I didn't think it was going to be that good a season for me, to be honest. I just wanted to get here and prove that I can pitch at this level still," he said.
Acquiring Rusch from Les Capitales de Quebec last winter, Goldeyes manager Rick Forney said Rusch has been a team leader.
"He's exceeded some of my expectations," said Forney. "He's pitched like a top-of-the-rotation guy. As of right now, I'd say there's two people vying for pitcher of the year honours in our league. It's probably coming down to him and Josh Lowey from Wichita."
Under ordinary circumstances, numbers like that and an endorsement like that would mean a Major League Baseball organization should be calling.
But Rusch is working under extraordinary circumstances. He doesn't expect any MLB calls because the first thing he'd have to do is sit out for 50 games, due to a costly off-season mistake.
On March 9, MLB issued Rusch a 50-game suspension for a violation under the Minor League Drug Prevention and Treatment Program involving "a drug of abuse." It would take effect upon his signing with an MLB organization. The suspension does not apply at the independent level of baseball.
"It's the bed I've made. I was just talking with some friends and family, with the numbers that I have been putting up, as much as that's an accolade, it's also a glaring statement that I'm still here for a reason," Rusch said. "It's something that I have to live with and I think about it every day. It sucks because you have a season like this, you think an opportunity would arise."
Rusch had an ERA of 2.99 near the end of last season when was picked up by the Boston Red Sox and finished the season with Portland Sea Dogs in the AA Eastern League. Because he concluded the season with the Boston organization, Rusch said he was on their drug-testing cycle until spring training of 2012.
"So two days after I signed with Winnipeg, in the end of February, they decided to spring a random drug test on me. It kind of caught me off guard," said Rusch who said his misstep was "a recreational thing, hanging out with a couple of friends" and not performance-enhancing. "I don't like the way they did it. It's one thing if I'm getting ready to play organized, affiliated baseball. It's another thing to just sneak up, two days before I leave to go play somewhere."
Asked what chance Rusch, with such a lengthy suspension attached to his resumé, has at getting a look by an organization, Forney was plainspoken.
"It's going to be really hard," Forney said. "Every organization has 180 players and there's 12 or 15 pitchers on every roster at every level. Right-handed pitchers that throw 88-92 (mph), there's plenty of them. The older you get it makes it a bit more difficult."
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