SEATTLE – Sitting at a table in the Tampa Bay Rays’ clubhouse, Andrew Kittredge scratched the hint of gray in his beard before flinging out hands of playing cards to a pair of fellow pitchers.
He’s often been the dealer.
Kittredge dealt at Ferris High School, overpowering Greater Spokane League hitters for four years before doing much of the same at Washington.
After floating around various rungs of the minor leagues for much of the decade, the 29-year-old reliever appears to have a foothold in the majors.
Kittredge didn’t register a MLB pitch until 2017 – four months after his 27th birthday – and has since been demoted, promoted, demoted and promoted again from the Durham Bulls, the Rays’ Triple-A affiliate.
But after 63 total appearances with the Rays – 19 since his most his most recent call-up in June – the hard-throwing Kittredge (5.39 career earned-run average, 82 strikeouts in 81 innings) believes his mental approach on the mound has never been better.
“Good baseball players are constantly maturing and getting better mentally, and that’s where I was a late bloomer,” Kittredge told The Spokesman-Review last week at T-Mobile Park while in town for a series against the Mariners. “I’ve always had the same stuff, but it took time to figure out how to become a good pitcher, than just be an athlete with a good arm.”
“I don’t regret anything, as far as how long it took it took (to get the majors),” Kittredge added.” I’m just happy to be here now.”
But after almost five seasons in Triple-A without call to the majors, did Kittredge doubt he’d get there?
“It’s funny, because when you’re going through it, you never think you don’t have what it takes to get to (the big leagues),” Kittredge said. “As long as you have a uniform on and keep getting opportunities, there’s always a chance. “I’m glad that I stuck with it.”
The former South Hill resident’s fastball is consistently clocked in the mid-90s. The significant drop in his changeup is also a big part of Kittredge’s arsenal, as is his slider.
His arm strength has wowed coaches since his freshman year at Ferris, where he was a three-time all-Greater Spokane League selection and the league MVP.
Kittredge, the state of Washington’s No. 1 pitching prospect as a senior in 2008, starred in the GSL at a time when the league was stocked with talented hurlers.
Kittredge (Washington), Central Valley’s Rusty Shellhorn (Washington State) and Trevor Schull (Centenary), U-Hi’s Tyler Olson (Gonzaga) and Billy Moon (Gonzaga) and Rogers’ Jacob Partridge went on to NCAA Division I and/or professional careers.
Former longtime Ferris baseball coach John Thacker – a member of the Washington Coaches Association Sports Hall of Fame – knew Kittredge was special in middle school.
“So we got him on the mound, and were just kind of curious to watch and see what he had (in eighth grade),” Thacker told The Spokesman-Review in 2007. “He probably threw 20-some pitches, and we just looked at each other and said, ‘This guy’s going to be good.’ ”
He was selected by the Mariners in the 45th round of the 2008 MLB Draft, but opted to continue his career at Washington, striking out 157 hitters in two seasons with the Huskies. He signed with the Mariners in 2011, beginning six years with the organization that started with the short-season, single-A Everett AquaSox.
Kittredge went on to have three different stints – in 2013, ’15 and ’16 – with the Tacoma Rainiers, Seattle’s Triple-A club, but was never called up to the Mariners.
He was traded to the Rays’ organization before the 2017 season, where he went on to star for Durham and was selected for the Triple-A All-Star Game.
Coincidentally, that game was in Tacoma. Kittredge was promoted to Tampa Bay a week later.
Last weekend, he enjoyed his return to Seattle, where he and his wife lived for six years before purchasing a home in north Spokane.
Kittredge didn’t pitch in the three-game series against the Mariners, but was happy to see Edgar Martinez Hall of Fame Weekend from the T-Mobile Park bullpen. The Rays (72-52) are contending for one of two AL wild-card berths.
“It was awesome to be here for that. The Mariners were my team growing up,” said Kittredge, who also recently became a father. “Those teams with Edgar, Griffey and A-Rod were the best Mariner teams.
“I watched the old Mariners ‘My Oh My’ video about four times as week as a kid,” he added.
A couple dozen friends and family members made the trek last week to see Kittredge, hoping he’d called in from the bullpen.
He didn’t, and has yet to throw a major-league pitch in Seattle.
“It’s always great to play on a big-league field, especially when you’re coming home,” Kittredge said. “It’s been a pretty exciting last couple months for me, and getting to come here for the first time as a pro is the cherry on top.”
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