Relief pitchers appear to be the hottest commodity in the Patriot League this season, as virtually all the contenders are shuffling their bullpens in search of an edge. The Silver City Outlaws, whose once-commanding Western Division lead has slipped, were the latest contender to fortify their relief corps, acquiring left-hander Cliff Humphrey from the Salt Lake Samurai in exchange for long reliever Rick Wilkins.
Humphrey, a 34-year-old knuckleballer, has excelled in fairly limited work with the Samurai this season. He posted a 1.42 ERA in 6 2/3 innings for Salt Lake, one of the few bright spots in a generally grim picture.
Not only was Humphrey quite effective on the mound, he was also widely liked in the Samurai clubhouse. He was well-known as a quick wit and a cross between assistant pitching coach and father confessor for the younger players on the team. He is also a fairly accomplished electric guitarist, who occasionally played jam sessions in Salt Lake nightclubs and tours with a blues-rock band during the offseason.
“I’m really going to miss Cliff,” said Samurai manager Johnny Dugan. “He’s a good pitcher, and even more important, he’s a really fun guy to be around. I know a lot of us are sorry to see him go.”
Outlaws GM Hank Stroman was full of praise for his new acquisition. “Once I set my mind to getting a player, I track that deal like a hound dog and don’t let up until I get him. As soon as I saw Cliff Humphrey pitch, I knew I wasn’t gonna rest until I saw him in the cream-and-green. I think he fits in great with our staff, and he has that veteran know-how I like. We just got another notch on our belt.”
The 31-year-old Wilkins only appeared in one game for Silver City, in which he allowed 3 runs in two-thirds of an innings. Sources with the team say he lost manager John Jarha’s trust after that, and he had grown increasingly vocal in his dissatisfaction with his role. He has shown an amazing reputation for rubber-armed durability in his previous stops, posting a 2.82 ERA in 106 appearances last year in the Mexican League.
“Well, at least I should get to appear in all the games I want,” said Wilkins about his trade to Salt Lake. “The record sucks, but I’ll treat it as an opportunity.”