Daryl Thompson and the Greatest Month in Dragons History
In 2007, the Dragons won their first nine games and stood at 23-4 after the first 27, on the way to a division title. Daryl Thompson had one of the greatest months for a pitcher in Dragons history. Just 13 months later, he shut down the Yankees on national TV in his big league debut.
On July 13, 2006, the Reds completed a blockbuster eight-player trade with the Washington Nationals. The deal involved seven Major League players, as the Reds sent former Dragons outfielder Austin Kearns along with shortstop Felipe Lopez and relief pitcher Ryan Wagner to the Nats in exchange for relievers Bill Bray and Gary Majewski, shortstop Royce Clayton, and second baseman Brendan Harris. The Reds also received a pitching prospect in the trade, Daryl Thompson, who would play in Dayton and eventually become the 27th Dragons player to reach the big leagues.
By far the least known commodity at the time of the trade, Thompson was only 20 years old and had been forced to miss most of the 2006 season with arm problems. He began the 2007 campaign as a starting pitcher with the Dragons, part of a Dayton team that got off to one of the best starts in Midwest League history.
The 2007 Dragons won their first nine games and by the time they began to cool down in early May, their record was 23-4. Amazingly, 11 of the 25 players on the opening night roster would go on to play in the Major Leagues (the number could still increase). The team featured an outfield of Chris Heisey, Drew Stubbs, and Denis Phipps-all future Reds. The infield consisted of three future Major Leaguers including Juan Francisco and third, Chris Valaika at shortstop, and Justin Turner at second. The catcher, Eddy Rodriguez, has also played in the big leagues.
Thompson slotted in as the # 3 starting pitcher. He won his first start, going five strong innings and allowing just two base runners. The only run against him came on a solo home run and he struck out six. In his second start, he fired six shutout innings and won again. His third start was a repeat of the second, six scoreless innings, just three hits allowed, no walks, and six strikeouts. His fourth start was even better. Six more scoreless innings, just one hit allowed, no walks, no runs, and six strikeouts, and another win. Through four starts with the Dragons, Thompson had allowed just one run (on a solo homer), had walked one batter and struck out 19. It might have been the finest month by a pitcher in Dragons history. His fifth and final start with the Dragons produced yet another win as he allowed two runs in five innings.
After five starts with the Dragons, Thompson was 5-0 with a 0.96 earned run average. It was enough to convince the Reds that he was ready to move up. He finished the season with Sarasota, going 9-5 with a 3.77 ERA. With a full-season record of 14-5, he led all Reds Minor League pitchers in victories and was promoted to the Reds 40-man roster.
Thompson started the 2008 season with Double-A Chattanooga. After his first six starts, his ERA was 0.72. After 10 starts, he was 3-2 with a 1.76 ERA, good enough for a promotion to Triple-A Louisville. In his first two starts with the Bats, he allowed a total of two runs in 14 innings. After four starts, he was 3-0. On June 20, the Reds announced intentions to promote Thompson to the Major Leagues to start a game against the New York Yankees. Just 13 months after he left the Dragons, he was headed to the big leagues.
On June 21, 2008, Thompson made his Major League debut at Yankee Stadium before a crowd of 54,509. Facing a lineup featuring Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriguez, Hideki Matsui, Jorge Posada, Johnny Damon, and Robinson Cano, Thompson fired five shutout innings in a Reds victory. Interestingly, in the same game, Yankees starting pitcher Dan Giese was also making his Major League debut, and opened the game with five scoreless innings against Cincinnati. It was the first time in 36 years that two pitchers making their big league debuts in the same game had completed the first five innings without a runner crossing the plate for either team.
In Thompson's second start, he did not allow a run until Cleveland's Grady Sizemore connected on a solo homer in the fifth inning. Thompson then allowed three more runs in the sixth and was charged with the loss. His third start, against the Pirates, was a rough one. He allowed four runs in the top of the first inning, lasted until the fifth, and suffered his second loss. With an 0-2 record and a 6.91 ERA, the 22-year-old Thompson was sent back to the Minor Leagues for more seasoning.
Unfortunately, injuries held Thompson back over the next several seasons. He missed large portions of 2009 and 2010. He did get back to the Majors with the Reds for one three-inning relief appearance in 2011, but at the end of that season, he became a free agent and signed with the Minnesota Twins organization. On June 2, 2012, he was released by the Twins after spending a half-season in Triple-A. He signed with an independent team, the Southern Maryland Blue Crabs of the Atlantic League, and pitched effectively for them over the remainder of the season.
Thompson is still only 27 years old. He pitched in December in the Venezuelan Winter League, hoping to show that he can help a big league club. His Minor League career now spans 10 seasons. His big league experience, remembered for his scoreless debut at Yankee Stadium in a nationally-televised inter-league meeting, made him the 27th Dragon in the Major Leagues.
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