One-Hit Wonders: John Urrea to Jaret Wright

This is Part 13 of a 13-part series examining the 65 men who have collected exactly one hit as a member of the San Diego Padres. The current installment features a man who once outpitched Dennis Martinez in the minor leagues, a high school teammate of Kerry Wood, one piece of the Ken Caminiti trade, a pitcher who homered more frequently than Dave Winfield, and a man who delivered one of the worst pitching seasons in Padres history.

John Urrea

Pos: RHP
Years: 1981

38  4 0 1  0  0  0   0  0 1 .250 .250 .250  47

The St. Louis Cardinals selected Urrea with the 14th pick overall in the 1974 January draft. That crop yielded Roy Smalley Jr., Larry McWilliams, Ken Phelps, Shane Rawley, and a whole lot of nothing.

In his first full professional season, the 20-year-old Urrea tied for the Florida State League lead in wins with 14. His numbers that year were better than those of another FSL right-hander of the same age, Orioles farmhand Dennis Martinez, who went on to win 245 games in the big leagues.

Urrea came up with the Cardinals in ’77 and pitched well (7-6, 4 SV, 3.16 ERA, 123 ERA+) as a swingman. He struggled the next year (4-9, 5.38 ERA) and found himself back in the minors, where he fared even worse (2-1, 5.80 ERA). After a semi-successful (4-1, 3 SV, 3.48 ERA, 108 ERA+) stint in the St. Louis bullpen in 1980, Urrea came to San Diego along with Terry Kennedy and spare parts for Rollie Fingers, Gene Tenace, and more spare parts.

Urrea had a shiny ERA (2.39) in 38 relief appearances for Frank Howard’s Padres but walked more batters than he struck out. Urrea wasn’t one of Howard’s more trusted relievers: The Padres went 10-28 in his appearances (they were 31-41 in other games).

In one of his rare winning games, on May 1, 1981, Urrea relieved starter Juan Eichelberger at Shea Stadium. Urrea entered in the fourth inning, with his team trailing the Mets, 2-0. He worked 5 1/3 scoreless innings and picked up the victory.

And in the top of the ninth, with Juan Bonilla at first base and two out, Urrea singled off right-hander Tom Hausman. Ozzie Smith then flied out to end the inning.

Urrea retired after the season, at age 26. In parts of five seasons, he went 17-18 with a 3.74 ERA (99 ERA+). Among his most similar pitchers according to Baseball-Reference is former Padres right-hander Clay Hensley, although Urrea wasn’t quite that good.

Kevin Walker

Pos: LHP
Years: 2000-2003

108  4 0 1  0  0  0   0  0 1 .250 .250 .250  32

The Padres snagged Walker in the sixth round of the 1995 draft out of Grand Prairie High School in Texas, where he was a teammate of Kerry Wood. In hindsight, they would have been better off taking Joe Nathan, who went to the Giants later that round, but such is the nature of hindsight.

Meanwhile, the Padres had — stop me if you’ve heard this before — a miserable draft. First-round pick Ben Davis was by far the most successful of the lot.

As for Walker, he mainly worked as a starter for his first four seasons before shifting to the bullpen at High-A Rancho Cucamonga in 1999. The following year, he jumped all the way to the big leagues and did a credible job, posting a 4.19 ERA (102 ERA+) in 70 appearances.

Walker’s lone hit came on April 20, 2000, in his first big-league at-bat. You might recognize this as the same game at Busch Stadium in which John Roskos collected his only hit for the Padres.

Walker worked 1 1/3 scoreless innings in relief of right-handers Brian Boehringer and Vicente Palacios. With the Padres trailing, 14-1, Walker stepped to the plate against Cardinals left-hander Mike Mohler and ground a 2-1 pitch into center field for a single that advanced former (and current) Padres infielder David Newhan to second base. Both men were left stranded when the late Mike Darr grounded out to end the frame.

After a fine rookie campaign, Walker struggled with injuries and never duplicated his initial success. He pitched in just 52 big-league games over the next five years before making his final appearance with the Chicago White Sox in 2005.

Walker kicked around the minors a few more years before retiring in 2008, at age 31, with a career record of 7-3, 4.76 ERA (90 ERA+). He currently serves as pitching coach for the Lowell Spinners, Short-Season A-ball affiliate of the Boston Red Sox and worked in the same capacity for the Peoria Javelinas in this past season’s Arizona Fall League.

Brian Williams

Pos: RHP
Years: 1995

44 14 1 1  1  0  0   0  0 4 .071 .071 .143 -44

The Houston Astros took Williams with the 30th pick overall in the 1990 draft, one pick ahead of the Padres’ Scott Sanders. Williams played college ball at the University of South Carolina, alma mater of Brian Roberts, Mookie Wilson, and former Padres farmhand Dave Hollins.

Williams tore through the minors, pitching at four levels in his first full professional season. He even started two games for the big club that year.

The following year, 1992, saw Williams split time between Houston and Triple-A Tucson. After a lackluster showing in ’93 and worse in ’94, Williams found himself shipped to San Diego as part of the trade that brought Ken Caminiti and Steve Finley to the Padres.

Williams spent a forgettable (3-10, 6.00 ERA, 68 ERA+) season here but managed to collect a hit. It happened during his final start with the club on September 25, 1995, at Candlestick Park.

With the Padres leading, 4-2, Williams drove left-hander Terry Mulholland’s first pitch of the seventh inning to center field for a double. Finley followed with a bunt single, and both men scored on a Tony Gwynn double that extended San Diego’s lead to 6-2.

Williams worked into the seventh and fanned a career-high nine batters. Brad Ausmus, Caminiti, and Melvin Nieves all homered in support of the cause, and Trevor Hoffman struck out two of the three batters he faced to preserve the victory.

The Padres released Williams after the season. He signed with Detroit the following year, where he duplicated his 3-10 record.

After a few more stops in the major and minor leagues, Williams retired in 2003 at age 34. His final line was 26-38, 5.37 ERA (79 ERA+). He was sort of the Seth McClung of his day, which helps only if you know who McClung is… which isn’t likely, so forget I said it.

Earl Wilson

Pos: RHP
Years: 1970

15 17 2 1  0  0  1   2  2 12 .059 .158 .235   6

Wilson was a decent pitcher who enjoyed a nice run — think Pete Harnisch — and who could hit a little. He knocked 35 home runs in his career — tied with Hall of Famer Warren Spahn for tops among big leaguers who never played any other position than pitcher. Wilson did it in about 1200 fewer plate appearances, posting a slick 23.94 PA/HR rate. As a point of reference:

Player        PA/HR
Earl Wilson   23.94
Eddie Murray  25.43
Stan Musial   26.76
Dave Winfield 26.58
Al Kaline     29.07

Sample sizes notwithstanding, that is nice company to keep.

Originally signed by the Boston Red Sox in 1953, Wilson joined the big club in 1959, although his presence was met with some resistance. Still, he became a rotation mainstay in 1962 and remained there until June 1966, when the Red Sox shipped him to Detroit for Don Demeter and Julio Navarro.

Wilson won 22 games for the Tigers in 1967, and reached double digits in victories every year from 1962 to 1969. After getting off to a slow start in 1970, he was purchased from Detroit by the Padres. Wilson’s numbers didn’t improve for his new team. He made nine starts before being bumped to the bullpen in September.

Wilson’s final big-league hit came during a relief appearance. On September 2, 1970, in the second game of a doubleheader at home against Atlanta, Wilson replaced Gary Ross to start the sixth. After making quick work of the Braves that inning (picking Ralph Garr off first with Hank Aaron at the plate for the final out helped), he batted fifth in the bottom half.

With a run in, Wilson stepped up against right-hander Phil Niekro (against whom Chris Krug and Tom Tellmann each collected his only Padres hit) and slammed a two-run homer, extending San Diego’s lead to 7-4. Wilson closed out the game for his lone victory in a Padres uniform and the last of his career. In a nice bit of symmetry, the man on the mound for Atlanta at the end of this game was none other than Navarro, for whom Wilson had been traded four years earlier.

Jaret Wright

Pos: RHP
Years: 2003

39  4 0 1  1  0  0   0  0 2 .250 .250 .500  97

You may remember Wright, a former first-round pick of the Cleveland Indians who at age 21 excelled for the Tribe in their 1997 World Series run. Due in large part to injuries, he never built on his early success, and by 2002, in what should have been his prime, Wright signed as a free agent with the Padres in the hope of resurrecting a once-promising career.

(As an aside, after Cleveland took Wright with the 10th pick overall in 1994 and Pittsburgh whiffed at no. 11, the next three players taken were Nomar Garciaparra, Paul Konerko, and Jason Varitek. One wonders what the Indians might have accomplished with any of those guys on their roster in the late-’90s; stick Garciaparra on that ’97 squad and the mind boggles.)

Anyway, Wright proceeded to become one of the least effective pitchers on one of the least successful Padres teams in recent memory. He made 39 appearances for San Diego, and opponents hit .348/.427/.576 against him. (Speaking of the ’97 Indians, it’s like Wright turned everyone into that year’s Jim Thome.)

On April 13, 2003, at home against the Rockies, Wright followed Oliver Perez and Clay Condrey into the fray. With the game tied, 2-2, in the seventh, Wright retired Colorado in order and then watched his team score four runs in the home half.

Not that it mattered, but the Padres could have done even more damage. After Rondell White’s two-run homer off right-hander Todd Jones gave San Diego a 6-2 lead, Wright doubled to left-center. Xavier Nady struck out and Wiki Gonzalez grounded out to end the inning. Wright worked a scoreless eighth and got credit for the win.

The Padres placed Wright on waivers in August, and the Braves claimed him. As was the case with Dennys Reyes after he left San Diego, Wright enjoyed a career year the following season, going 15-8 with a 3.28 ERA (132 ERA+). He then signed a big contract with the Yankees and went back to sucking before retiring in 2007 with a career line of 68-60, 5.09 ERA (90 ERA+).

Had Wright not encountered so many health issues, he could have been a mighty fine pitcher. The same can be said of many, though, including several who adorn his list of most similar pitchers at Baseball-Reference, e.g., Adam Eaton, Jason Bere, Scott Elarton, Jeremy Bonderman, and James Baldwin.

This concludes our series. Thanks for your indulgence, and I hope you enjoyed it!

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11 Responses »

  1. My first date with my wife was to Panda Express … I had no idea there was a connection to the Padres … that makes it even *more* romantic, imo :-)

  2. Hmmm … thanks for the link to the Blanks article @ UT … I do like his approach (focus on rehab) … but it concerns me that he says his hitting was major sucking before he injured his elbow.

    A “breakout” candidate came to me yesterday … Nick Schmidt. He’s been way below the radar … but he was a 1st round pick. I’m hoping he has a good couple of months at AA and then gets a callup to AAA … and perhaps getting a September callup. So, not a huge breakout … in fact, not really what was being asked for … just a pleasant surprise. I guess really, I’m just getting an early start on my breakout candidate for 2012 :-)

  3. Wow … I’m now a *huge* fan of Vladimir Nabokov … thanks!

  4. In fact, I’ve just added Vlad to this wikipedia page …

    (note: GY – I may need you to update this blog entry to call him a “polymath”, so that I can point to it as an example of having been described as a polymath by a reliable source :-) )

  5. who is this Nick Schmidt? i don’t recall hearing the name before…

  6. Shef hangs ‘em up …

    … one of my favorite Padres … he was a real hitter!

  7. is that a new sitcom, “Shef hangs ‘em up” coming in spring 2011. :)

    yup, he’s got that quick wrist and heck of power stroke.

    check out this conclusion:

    baseball is hard.

  8. The 2004 version of Jaret Wright would have been nice to have on the 2004 version of the Padres. Good for a few more wins and perhaps… well, what’s the point? Wright was a Brave.