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|New York Yankees — No. --|
|Born: February 20, 1982 |
Santa Monica, California
|Bats: Right||Throws: Right|
|August 12, 2006 for the Houston Astros|
(through 2008 season)
|Earned run average||5.32|
Hirsh was a dominant minor league pitcher in 2005-06, winning the Double-A Texas League Pitcher of the Year Award and the Triple-A Pacific Coast League Pitcher of the Year Award in successive seasons, as he went a combined 26-10 with 283 strikeouts. Following that he was in the starting rotation for the Colorado Rockies, but saw limited action due to injuries in 2007-08.
Hirsh has a very large but athletic frame, standing at 6' 8" and weighing 250 lbs.
Hirsh was not always uncommonly tall. His freshman year of high school when he was 5' 11" he tried out for the school basketball team, got cut, and never went back. "Baseball was it for me," said Hirsh. "High school turned out to be one big growth spurt.... All of a sudden I'm 6-foot-8, and people are like, 'What happened to you?'"
Despite his size, Hirsh drew little interest from scouts out of St. Francis High School of La Cañada, California, because he then threw just 86-88 mph. He went undrafted when he graduated in 2000, and no NCAA Division I programs wanted him, so he wound up at Division III California Lutheran University, which was only 40 minutes from his house.
Hirsh attended and played baseball at California Lutheran, where he was a 3-year starter, and flashed a 97-mph fastball and a mid-80s slider. He compiled a 26-6 record with a 2.96 ERA, striking out 238 batters over 258.1 innings. He is tied for first at the university in career wins (26), and holds the record for the most strikeouts in a game (18). Twice in his college career he was named to the First-Team All-SCIAC, and in 2003 he was also an ABCA All-West Region First-Team selection.
Although Hirsh left college after his junior year, he went back after his first minor league season, and then e-mailed his assignments in from his laptop when he was back in the minors to earn a BA in multimedia in 2004.
He dominated the New York-Penn League in his pro debut, going 3-1 for the 2003 Tri-City ValleyCats, with a 1.95 ERA, limiting batters to a .175 average, and fanning 33 hitters in 32.1 innings of work. Following the season he was rated the No. 8 prospect in the organization by Baseball America. In 2004 he skipped the low-A Lexington Legends to record 11 victories with the Advanced-A Salem Avalanche, while honing his secondary pitches.
2005: Texas League Pitcher of the Year
For a week in January 2005 he worked with Nolan Ryan at Ryan's off-season pitching camp in Houston. Hirsh said: "The biggest thing I got out of it was the confidence ... [having Astros manager] Phil Garner and Nolan Ryan sit there and tell you that you've got the stuff to be in the big leagues."
Playing for the Corpus Christi Hooks in 2005, he pitched two perfect innings for the Texas League's West All Star team in the league All Star Game. He was the Texas League Pitcher of the Week three times. For the season, he went 13-8 with a league-best 165 strikeouts while walking only 42, finishing second in the league with 13 wins and second in ERA (2.87) and innings (172.1), and was named 2005 Texas League Pitcher of the Year, team MVP, and Baseball America Double-A All Star. He also earned Texas League post-season All Star honors. "I saw this kid mature, having to go through adversity and how he came out on top," Hooks manager Dave Clark said. "This kid's got something special."Hirsh was rated as the Astros top prospect by Baseball America heading into the 2006 season, and was also listed as having the "Best Control" in the organization, and the Astros put him on their 40-man roster. "He's a very mature kid," Astros assistant general manager Ricky Bennett said. "He keeps everything in perspective." With Hirsh in spring training with the major league team, manager Phil Garner summed up his estimation of Hirsh as follows:
"He looks to me like he maintains good concentration. Whatever he's doing, he looks like he focuses at it. He looks like he throws the ball down in the zone well, which is really good for as big as he is. And his stuff's good. He looks like he has some of the other ingredients that you've got to have to go along with having good stuff. He's a good athlete. He swings the bat pretty good, and he moves on the mound well."
2006: Pacific Coast League Pitcher of the Year
Hirsh began 2006 with the Triple A Round Rock Express, where he a mastered a two-seam and four-seam fastball. He suffered a pinched sciatic nerve in his lower back, and therefore didn't pick up a weight until June or July, but he got better through running and extra stretching. He was named the starting pitcher for the U.S. Team at the 2006 MLB All-Star Futures Game in Pittsburgh, and was also named a Triple A All Star, and pitched an inning in that game. On July 26 he set a team record of consecutive innings without an earned run at 46 2/3 innings. He had a season record of 13-2 (including a 12-game winning streak; an Express record), led the league in wins, and had a 2.10 ERA (2nd in the league) and 118 strikeouts (4th in the league) in 137.1 innings, as he held batters to a .193 batting average. Hirsh was named the 2006 Pacific Coast League Pitcher of the Year, the MLB.com 2006 Triple A Starting Pitcher of the Year, a Baseball America Triple-A All Star, and was also elected to the post-season 2006 All-PCL squad as the top right-handed starting pitcher in the league. "Needless to say, he's had an excellent season," Round Rock manager Jackie Moore said. "He's as consistent from one start to the next as any young pitcher I've been associated with."
During the 2006 season, Hirsh also kept an on-line journal on MiLB.com.
In 2003-06, Hirsh's minor league record was 40-18 with a 2.90 ERA. He pitched 472.1 innings, averaging 7.3 hits, 3.0 walks, and 7.8 strikeouts per 9 innings.
In 2008, Hirsh tried to work back from his rotator cuff problems and rehab his shoulder after May 30 at Colorado Springs in AAA. With reduced velocity, he was 4-4 in 18 games (17 starts), with a 5.80 ERA in 99.1 innings. The slow pace of his recovery made for what Hirsh admitted was "a very trying season. I was mentally defeated several times this year." His velocity returned, however, to the point where the Rockies recalled him when rosters expanded in September.
Hirsh was 6-7 in 2009 with a 6.66 ERA in 20 games, 16 of them starts, for Triple-A Colorado Springs in the hitter-friendly Pacific Coast League before being traded to the New York Yankees.
Houston Astros (2006)
Hirsh made his major league debut for the Astros on August 12, 2006. On August 17, he won his first game and in celebration his teammates doused him with beer in the shower. He started 9 games for the season, winning 3 of them, and held batters to a .231 batting average when runners were in scoring position.
Colorado Rockies (2007-09)
He demonstrated much-improved command of his changeup, previously a troublesome pitch for him. On July 2 he sprained his right ankle in a game against the Mets, diving back to the third base bag when catcher Paul LoDuca attempted to pick him off. He was forced to leave the game despite having pitched six shutout innings, and ended up on the disabled list from July 3 until August 1.
His season was abruptly interrupted, however, when Hirsh went on the disabled list again after his right fibula was broken in a game August 7. Not realizing his leg had been broken on a line drive comebacker hit by the second batter of the game, J.J. Hardy, that caught him in the shin in the first inning, Hirsh went on to throw out Hardy and pitch 6 innings that day, earning a key win for the club. Asked what he would do the next time he faced Hardy, Hirsh joked: "I might put a catcher's shin guard on, just for him." The injury ended his season. "I was crushed," Hirsh said. "Obviously, nobody wants to have someone tell them that their season's cut short."
In 2007, in 28 starts Hirsh compiled a 5-7 record with a 4.81 earned run average, and kept batters to a .204 batting average in their first plate appearance against him in games. Hirsh missed pitching in the World Series, as he was still on the 60-Day DL.
In spring training in 2008, Rockies pitching coach Bob Apodaca said: "All Jason has to do is trust his stuff. He has the type of fastball you work off, but he was using his fastball the way you'd use an off-speed pitch —- to try and trick hitters."
Hirsh was expected to be in the starting rotation in 2008, as the number 4 starter.But he found himself on the disabled list after just two scoreless innings in one spring training game, and started the season on the DL because of a strained muscle in his right rotator cuff and right rotator cuff inflammation. While on the DL, Hirsh spent a number of weeks in a strengthening program and at extended spring training in Tucson, Arizona, to rebuild his arm strength. "This is the first time I've ever really had injuries," Hirsh said. "I had maybe one injury in the minor leagues coming up. Throughout my career, from when I was a little kid, I've never had arm problems, I've never broken a bone, I've never rolled an ankle. But I've managed to do all three of those in the last two years."
He was recalled in September and pitched in only four games during the season, including the first relief appearances of his career, pitching under 9 innings.
New York Yankees (2009-present)
On July 29, 2009, Hirsh was traded to the New York Yankees for a player to be named later. He was assigned to the Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Yankees. Yankees manager Joe Girardi said Hirsh was acquired to provide another option in the back end of the team's rotation.
"It's a new lease on life for me," said Hirsh. "It's a chance to have some fresh eyes take a look at me. They don't know me, I don't know them, so it's kind of like being drafted all over again. I get to come in and pitch and have a good time and hopefully impress some people and get back up there."
Hirsh has good leverage, pitches down to hitters, and has a refined repertoire of pitches. He has a "plus" 2-seam fastball that has sink and good movement at 91-94 mph, and throws a "filthy" hard-breaking slider that is consistently precise, and has bite at 80-86 mph (managers rated it the best breaking ball in the Texas League). Hirsh continues to refine his moderate changeup, which has fair deception and movement in the low-80s. He also throws a 4-seam fastball in the 94-96 mph range, and touches 97-98. He’s not afraid to pitch inside, and throws strikes to both sides of the plate. "I'm 6-foot-8 and I keep a high three-quarters arm angle," noted Hirsh. "You figure the mound is a foot and a half, and my arm may be another two, three, four feet. It makes the batter have to look up instead of straight at me, and he may have a difficult time adjusting."
He can still improve his command, which is average. His changeup used to be an unreliable pitch, but he has more recently employed it to much greater effect and even goes to it as an out pitch when he is ahead in the count.
The Astros drafted and signed his younger brother Matt (6' 5"; 235 lbs.), another Cal Lutheran right-handed pitcher, in the 30th round in 2005. Matt went 1-2, 5.61, in 2005 at Rookie-level Greeneville. Released by the Astrons on June 12, 2006, Matt signed with the St. Louis Cardinals in September 2006.
Hirsh is Jewish. He didn't find that to be an issue with the 2007 Rockies, even though as The New York Times put it, "Christianity rocks in Colorado's clubhouse." Hirsh said, "There are guys who are religious, sure, but they don’t impress it upon anybody. It’s not like they hung a cross in my locker or anything. They’ve accepted me for who I am, and what I believe in." Hirsh was featured in the 2008 Hank Greenberg 75th Anniversary edition of Jewish Major Leaguers Baseball Cards, licensed by Major League Baseball and published in affiliation with Fleer Trading Cards and the American Jewish Historical Society, commemorating the Jewish Major Leaguers from 1871 through 2008. He joined, among other Jewish major leaguers, Brad Ausmus, Kevin Youkilis, Ian Kinsler, Ryan Braun, Gabe Kapler, Jason Marquis, John Grabow, Craig Breslow, and Scott Schoeneweis.
Hirsh makes his offseason home in Burbank, California.
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- Career statistics and player information from Baseball-Reference, or Fangraphs, or The Baseball Cube
- Hardball Times stats
- No 10. - MLN FAB50 Baseball 2006 - Minor League News
- Project Prospect, 1/17/07
- "Hirsh a candidate for stardom," 2/15/07
- "Warming up for the Jewish Boys of Summer," 3/5/08
- Jweekly Celebrity Jewish Baseball, 4/4/08
- "Q&A with Jason Hirsh," The Scranton Times Tribune, 8/2/09
- Hirsh Brothers