For Tommy Doyle, the strange 2020 professional baseball campaign turned out far better than he could have imagined.
The shortened 60-game Major League regular season ended in the final week with the 2014 Flint Hill School graduate making his big-league pitching debut for the Colorado Rockies. The 6-foot-6 hard-throwing right-handed closer pitched in three games during the same week, with mixed success.
Doyle got hit around some, but he did record two strikeouts.
“I didn’t throw as many strikes as I had hoped, I walked too many and in that short time it was hard to tell if my stuff worked up there,” Doyle said. “But the two strikeouts proved I can strike out Major League hitters.”
If the 2020 baseball season had been a normal campaign and the start not postponed significantly because of the COVID-19 pandemic, Doyle figures he likely would have played the entire year in the minor leagues at some level.
After enjoying a strong season at high-level minor league A ball in 2019, Doyle was invited to the Rockies big-league spring training camp in 2020 in Arizona, reporting Feb. 1. When that was cut short and he was sent home on March 13 because of the pandemic, Doyle eventually was added to the Rockies Major League alternative roster.
Once he returned to the complex in July, with a fastball clocked as high as 97 MPH, Doyle worked out and practiced with those players in intrasquad competition close to the Rockies home field in Denver. After a while, Doyle was promoted to a three-player taxi squad.
As the regular season drew to a close and with the Rockies out of the playoff hunt, Doyle was promoted to the big club in the final week. In pro-baseball circles, a jump from A-ball to the Majors in one year isn’t a common occurrence.
Doyle had been pitching well at the alternative camp. He thinks the reason he got the big callup was to give him that experience since he was close by and been working out.
“Oh yeah, I was surprised I got called up,” Doyle said. “Maybe it was to get my feet wet and have that experience for upcoming seasons.”
Once on the big-league mound, Doyle said he initially experienced the pressure, stress and emotions of the moment. His Major League debut came in a Sept. 23 outing.
“There are no easy outs up there,” he said. “You have to be on your game and focused all the time. Eventually, your pitching instincts take over and you forget about everything else.”
This coming spring, Doyle will be on the Rockies’ initial 40-man roster to start next season. After that, nothing is guaranteed.
Doyle was a Vienna Little League and Vienna Babe Ruth all-star standout. Then he starred in high school at Flint Hill, making first-team Division I all-state his senior year at the private school, and was chosen the 2014 co-Virginia State Player of the Year. He was a three-time all-state selection, also made all-Mid-Atlantic Athletic Conference and played on league-championship teams.
Flint Hill baseball coach Tom Verbanic remembers a one-hit, 13-strikeout, 78-pitch performance by Doyle in a six-inning, slaughter-rule quarterfinal state-tournament playoff game.
“He was lights out and threw any pitch he wanted anywhere he wanted for a strike,” Verbanic said. “I knew after that he could really pitch and had a chance to pitch in the big leagues.”
From there, Doyle enjoyed a standout career pitching for the University of Virginia, mainly as a closer his final two seasons. He recorded 17 saves and made 61 career appearances for the Cavaliers. He also pitched in College World Series games, playing on Virginia’s 2015 championship squad.
Doyle was chosen by the Rockies in the second round with the 70th pick in the 2017 Major League draft. Before that, out of high school, he had been chosen by the Washington Nationals in the 35th round of an early draft, but did not sign.
In three seasons in the Rockies’ minor-league system, Doyle has amassed a 12-12 record, a 3.12 earned run average in 115 1/3 innings, has 132 strikeouts, 35 walks and 40 saves.