Bibens-Dirkx winds up in the big leagues
WASHINGTON, D.C. — Former Portland Pilots pitcher Austin Bibens-Dirkx was warming up in the bullpen for the Texas Rangers last month when he got the signal to go into his first major league game.
The moment was more than a decade in the making.
Bibens-Dirkx, a Salem native, was drafted by the Seattle Mariners in 2006 out of college.
"When I went through that (bullpen) door in a big-league game, I had a huge smile on my face," he recalled. "I was taking it all in with a big smile."
After warming up on the mound, Bibens-Dirkx had to step off and collect his thoughts.
"My heart was racing," he said of pitching one inning against the Philadelphia Phillies on May 17 at Arlington, Texas.
Bibens-Dirkx had pitched in the minor leagues from 2006-16, with stops in Everett and Tacoma, Washington, and Peoria, Illinois, and Des Moines, Iowa, to name just a few.
He even played independent ball with the Lancaster (Pennsylvania) Barnstormers in the Atlantic League early in 2016, before he signed a minor-league deal with Texas in June 2016 and pitched in 17 games with Rangers' Triple-A affiliate, Round Rock, last year.
"I worked a long time and worked very hard to get here," he said. "It took longer than I wanted or expected it to."
The former McNary High standout, who also spent two years at Chemeketa Community College, was not listed among the top 30 prospects in the Texas system prior to this year, according to Baseball America.
He once posted a 7.95 ERA with the High Desert Mavericks of the Class A California League in 2008 and a 13.89 with Triple-A Colorado Springs in 2012.
"There were a couple of times it crossed my mind if this was something I should continue to pursue," he said. "But deep in my heart and in my mind, I felt I could get people out. Until they took my jersey off and they said I was done, I was going to keep going."
Texas manager Jeff Banister says the 6-1, 210-pound right-hander has a role with the club now.
"He has given us flexibility. He is very experienced" as a pro, Jeff Banister said. "His moxie on the mound allows him to pitch at this level. It's a great story."
That magical story continued Sunday in the nation's capital, where Bibens-Dirkx made his second start of the season for the Rangers — and faced the first-place Washington Nationals with their ace right-hander, Max Scherzer, on the mound.
Against a team that entered the day leading the National League in team batting average and home runs, Bibens-Dirkx gave up one run and three hits in seven innings and came away with the 5-1 victory after Texas scored four runs in the top of the eighth.
Bibens-Dirkx throws a fastball that sits in the low 90s. But he was able to beat the Nationals and Scherzer, who struck out 10 against Texas and reached the 2,000 mark in punchouts for his career.
"It means a lot. It took me awhile to get here," Bibens-Dirkx said of the win, standing by his locker after the game. "I feel like having a little chip on my shoulder kind of helps. I felt like I could have been here awhile ago."
Bibens-Dirkx didn't know for sure he would start Sunday until after Texas' win on Saturday against the Nationals. His main concern when he found out was having to bat against Scherzer, who won the NL Cy Young Award in 2016.
"I've earned the right to be here," said Bibens-Dirkx, who got his first big-league win out of the bullpen on June 6 against the New York Mets.
In the first inning on Sunday, Bibens-Dirkx gave up a leadoff homer to Washington's Brian Goodwin; it was just the second HR of Goodwin's career.
Washington star Bryce Harper followed with a single to right field. Realizing the Nationals were seeking fastballs, Bibens-Dirkx and Texas catcher Jonathan Lucroy tried to use more off-speed pitches the rest of the way.
"We had to mix a lot and be random," Lucroy said. "He threw a lot of strikes. We had a game plan. You have to call a pretty unconventional game against them."
Daniel Murphy, one of the top hitters in the National League, hit into double play for two outs in the first. Bibens-Dirkx then retired Washington third baseman Anthony Rendon, who was his locker mate in spring training with the Nationals in 2012.
At one point, Bibens-Dirkx set down 19 batters in a row, the most ever for a Texas rookie pitcher since that stat began to be recorded in the early 1970s.
Among those watching was Tony Beasley, now the third-base coach for the Rangers and a former Nationals coach. Beasley was the manager for Triple-A Syracuse in 2012, when Bibens-Dirkx pitched for the top farm team in the Washington farm system.
"He has finally got an opportunity with us, and he has made the most of it," Beasley said of the Texas starter.
Bibens-Dirkx was 32 when he played his first game with the Rangers and became the oldest player to start a game as a pitcher in team history on May 31.
He entered Sunday's game with 11 strikeouts in his career, while Scherzer had posted 11 strikeouts in five separate games just this year.
The win over Washington left Bibens-Dirkx with a 2-0 record and 3.28 ERA in seven outings with the Rangers.
"Whoever pitches against Max is going to pitch their best game ever because they know they can't give up much," Washington manager Dusty Baker said. "We had never seen that guy. He was changing speeds and throwing his cutter, change-up, slider. He was getting all those pitches over. His first-pitch efficiency, strike efficiency, was off the hook."
Bibens-Dirkx pitched in 318 games in the minors, with 140 starts. He pitched in the independent Golden Baseball League in 2009 along the way, and also played winter ball in the Dominican Republic and Venezuela.
So, did he gain velocity or change anything as a pitcher during his sojourns?
"A little bit of both, honestly," he said. "I gained more experience, which I think helped going down to Venezuela and learning how to pitch.
"Back when I was young, I was throwing fairly hard. I really didn't have to pitch too much. Once you get to a higher level, it doesn't matter how hard you throw. I learned how to pitch."
David Driver is a Maryland
writer and can be reached at