Nelson Figueroa is not the typical Independent Baseball graduate because he neither started that way nor spent years working his way up through various leagues until a major league organization took notice. His only Indy time was for two starts with the Long Island (NY) Ducks (0-1, 2.79) early in the 2006 Atlantic League season.
Nevertheless, when a player is in an Independent league it almost always means he needs a fresh start of some nature, unless he is a top draft choice only on the scene to get some work until his agent can negotiate what he and the player consider a fair contract.
Figueroa spent all of 2005 rehabilitating from rotator cuff surgery so he went to Long Island to work his way back. Washington signed the right-hander, now 35, on May 9 of 2006, and he spent the summer with their Triple-A New Orleans farm club and the next season in Mexico.
These stops helped the Brooklyn, NY native get a renewed opportunity in the major leagues, where he had not been since 2003-04 stints at Pittsburgh.
He rattled between New Orleans, which had changed parent organizations from the last time he was in the Crescent City, and the New York Mets last year (3-3 for the Mets; 4-7 for New Orleans) and was in Buffalo for the Mets most of this season until the injuries continued mounting for the ill-fated residents of the new Citi Field.
This is a long leadup to a story that seems to have taken a nice turn. Figueroa has stepped in for the decimated New York pitching staff, and turned in a career-high 10 strikeouts while stopping the Cubs at Wrigley Field, 4-1, early this week. He allowed six hits and one run while pitching into the eighth inning. He had fanned eight Cubs on the same diamond for the Milwaukee Brewers, but that was almost seven years earlier (September 4, 2002).
"He is the epitome of getting secondary pitches over," Manager Jerry Manuel told The Associated Press. "And it also looks like to me he's kind of a cerebral guy where he has a good memory out there as to what he did before to get a particular guy out and able to command his fastball enough to be able to attack them in different spots.
It would seem pretty evident Figueroa (2-3, 4.50) should get regular work the last five weeks of the season, pitching only a few miles from where he once toiled for the Long Island Ducks.
Good for him.