BOSTON -- Until the very end of last season, all of Craig Breslow's 512 career innings in 522 games across 10 Major League seasons with the Padres, Red Sox, Indians, Twins, A's, D-backs and Red Sox again came in relief. All but three of his 222 Minor League outings were out of the bullpen. Life as a reliever took him to $12.7 million and two World Series rings.
Now, at 35, Breslow is pitching himself as a starter.
Go ahead, have your laugh. Then let's think this through a little more. Breslow is as reasonable and logical a Major Leaguer as you'll find, so the fact that he thinks it could work -- and that teams would be into it -- suggests it deserves more consideration.
"I'm not so naïve to think that a team's going to just pencil me into the starting rotation with two career starts under my belt," Breslow, a free agent, said last weekend at Theo Epstein's Hot Stove Cool Music charity event. "There have been some teams with some interest in giving me an opportunity to extend myself.
"There have been teams that have said, 'We see you as a reliever,' and there have been teams that said, 'We love this idea of giving it a chance.'"
Most relievers are failed starters. Breslow is not. He had a nice little four-year career at Yale -- where, in case you are feeling inferior today, he double-majored in molecular biophysics and biochemistry -- when he split time between the bullpen and rotation. His 2.56 ERA as a senior in 2002 was tops in the Ivy League. Of his 19 starts from 2000-02, he finished 10.
The Brewers picked him in the 26th round in the 2002 Draft and stuck him in the bullpen in rookie ball. Breslow stayed in relief, and it eventually worked out. The so-called Smartest Man in Baseball made it to the Majors in 2005 and stuck in '08.
Last September, out of either desperation or apathy, the last-place Red Sox gave Breslow two starts. They were unspectacular.
• Sept. 26 vs. Baltimore: 4 innings, 2 hits, 0 runs, 2 walks, 2 strikeouts, 55 pitches
• Oct. 3 vs. Cleveland: 5.1 innings, 5 hits, 2 runs, 0 walks, 2 strikeouts, 66 pitches
But something weird happened during that span. Breslow felt good. His stuff played up a bit. The routine of a starter worked for him. After a heavy workload during Boston's 2013 World Series title run, Breslow battled fatigue and ineffectiveness for much of 2014 and '15. This was different.
"I think it's something that suits me pretty well," Breslow said. "I got into a better rhythm. I found a smoother tempo, I had better command, was able to use my pitchability a little more."
It seems a little counterintuitive -- that a guy could feel better physically with the heavier workload of a starter, especially after spending a decade as a Major League reliever. How does that work?
Mike Boyle, a prominent Greater Boston strength and conditioning coach who is working with Breslow this winter and trained the Red Sox during their championship season three years ago, compared a pitcher's body to a car. Relieving is like starting the car and running it at 100 miles an hour immediately. Starting is like getting the car running, taking it around the block and eventually jumping on the highway.
"It may be almost two different types of wear and tear," said Boyle, who's worked with many collegiate, professional and Olympic athletes in recent decades. "That may lend itself to a different level of success."
Breslow is actually one of three Boyle clients in a similar situation this offseason: left-handed relievers looking to sign as starters. The others are Rich Hill, whose four starts for the Red Sox at the end of last season were his first since 2009, and Jeremy Bleich, a Yankees first-rounder in 2008 who spent last season as a reliever in the Pirates' system.
Hill already found what he was looking for, signing a one-year deal with the A's for $6 million and a spot in the rotation. Breslow took note.
"Rich Hill got $6 million off four starts, and I made two starts, you do the math," Breslow said, tongue firmly planted in cheek.
Breslow -- he's reasonable and logical, remember -- is realistic about this. Pitching out of the bullpen is better than not being in the Major Leagues at all, and if teams end up interested only in Craig Breslow, reliever, that's OK. Even with 6-month-old twins at home, Breslow is excited to get back to the field (a sentiment, he noted, shared by his wife, Kelly).
"The scouting report will tell you pretty quickly I don't have a single dominant pitch," Breslow said. "It's not like any one pitch that I have is a wipeout pitch. This ability to change speeds, to get guys offbalance, to get guys to chase -- I think it manifests itself better a couple of times through the lineup.
"Having made a couple of starts, I think it's at least shown that I've got the ability to do it if I needed to be a swing guy or make a couple of spot starts. It's just another tool in my kit."
If it doesn't work out, Breslow always has that Smartest Man thing going for him, too.
"You'll be only guy to get a two-way contract," Boyle tells Breslow, "where you play in the Majors or be a general manager."