Littleton makes 1-2-3 debut for Brewers
Right-handed reliever turns in perfect inning in first appearance
PHOENIX -- Wes Littleton found himself in a new clubhouse on Thursday, but there were plenty of familiar faces.
Littleton, a right-handed reliever, was plucked off waivers this week by the Brewers after he ran up an 18.56 ERA in Spring Training with the Red Sox. After joining his new team, he wasted no time in making his debut. He worked a perfect eighth inning in the Brewers' 7-5 win over the Indians -- a quick outing he called "a relief."As for those familiar faces, there were non-roster outfielder Jason Bourgeois and pitcher Sam Narron, who have neighboring lockers and were once teammates of Littleton in the Rangers' farm system. Brewers second baseman Rickie Weeks was a teammate on the 2002 U.S. national team. And there was outfielder Tony Gwynn Jr., an old high-school rival in Southern California. Littleton attended Vista; Gwynn went to Poway. "Ask him how much we owned them," Littleton prodded. Well? "He said that?" Gwynn said. "The way I remember it, it was pretty even, as far as beating up on each other. Either I would get three hits off him or go 0-for-5. Me and Wes go way back. He's always been a very talented pitcher." Now they are teammates. The Brewers claimed Littleton on Tuesday, and he reported to Maryvale Baseball Park on Thursday morning. He's out of Minor League options, so Littleton essentially has three weeks to convince the brass he deserves a spot in the bullpen. "I'm happy about it," Littleton said. "I didn't know I was even on waivers, but this gives me another good chance. It's a cool situation for me, and I'm glad to be a part of another team. Hopefully, I can show them what I can do." He'll have to do it in a hurry. The Brewers play their final exhibition tune-up on April 4 in Los Angeles before their April 7 season opener in San Francisco. Assuming Todd Coffey makes the team, Littleton is one of three or four pitchers vying for one remaining bullpen job. "The scouting report on him is that he throws a lot of ground balls up there, [against] both right-handed and left-handed hitters," Brewers manager Ken Macha said. "We'll get a chance to take a good look at him here." Littleton, 26, is of Samoan and African-American descent. He played his high-school ball just north of San Diego and attended Cal State Fullerton as an overhand thrower. That's how Littleton pitched when the Rangers made him a fourth-round Draft pick in 2003 and during his first two professional seasons at Rangers Class A affiliates. But midway through his 2005 season at Double-A Frisco, a Rangers roving coach -- current Mariners pitching coach Rick Adair -- suggested that Littleton try dropping his arm angle as a cure for his command issues. At first, he dropped all the way down, submarine-style, but then he found a comfort zone somewhere in the middle, and it proved to be his ticket to the big leagues. Littleton was in Texas by 2006, when he posted a 1.73 ERA in 33 games and limited big league right-handed hitters to a .157 batting average. He worked a career-high 48 innings and 35 games in '07, but his ERA bumped up to 4.31. It ballooned to 6.00 in 12 games last season, when Littleton spent most of the year in Triple-A. "At times, I kind of lose my mechanics," Littleton said. "I think that happens to every pitcher, and that's what happened to me this year in Boston." The Red Sox traded for him in November, and Littleton had a good chance of winning a bullpen spot. But he struggled, allowing 11 earned runs on eight hits -- two of them homers -- with seven walks and three hit batsmen in 5 1/3 innings. That translated to an 18.56 ERA and one ugly stat line. "It's horrible," Littleton said. What happened? "I was trying to do too much," he said. "It was a new team, and I was trying so much that I fell into a deep funk. This last week, week and a half, I've been working with all of the pitching coaches they have there to get my mechanics straightened out. I was hoping for more work there, but they just didn't have it for me." The Brewers did. "Doug [Melvin, Milwaukee's general manager] made the best comment, that we wouldn't have gotten this guy unless he had a lousy spring," said Macha, who called Red Sox skipper Terry Francona on Thursday morning for a scouting report. "Terry said he just couldn't command the ball." He did command it on Thursday in a 1-2-3 eighth inning. Littleton got help from shortstop Alcides Escobar, who made a nice play on a sharply struck grounder up the middle. "It's been a humbling experience the past few weeks," Littleton said. "It's a relief today, actually. ... I'm just going to go out there and have fun. I was trying too hard over there [in Red Sox camp] and that was a learning experience. I know what not to do now, and I know that I need to go out there relaxed."
Adam McCalvy is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.