Arizona Diamondbacks reliever Jorge De la Rosa and Seattle Mariners starter Felix Hernandez are members of a club they'd rather not have the dubious distinction of belonging to. They are the only active pitchers in the major leagues to have played 13 seasons or more without a single playoff appearance.
The longest playoff drought for any active pitcher (14 seasons) belongs to De La Rosa. The native of Monterey, Mexico, made his big league debut with the Milwaukee Brewers in 2004 and has spent most of his career (2008-16) with the Colorado Rockies.
Prior to De La Rosa's arrival in Colorado, the Rockies were swept by the Red Sox in the 2007 World Series. Since then, the Rockies' only other postseason appearance was in 2009, when they won only one game in the NL Division Series against Philadelphia. De la Rosa was unable to play in that series because of an injured left groin. Colorado didn't return to the playoffs until this season.
Hernandez, who made his debut in 2005, has spent his entire 13-year career with Seattle. The Mariners haven't been to the playoffs since 2001, and they have the longest active postseason drought in the major leagues.
Hall of Famer Ferguson Jenkins, who played for the Cubs, Rangers, Phillies and Red Sox over 19 seasons, is widely considered the best pitcher to never reach the postseason, earning 284 career wins while making 594 starts.
Now 31, Hernandez is still lagging far behind Jenkins with 160 wins in 375 starts. "King Felix" has pitched 2,502⅓ innings in the big leagues, and not a single one has been in the month of October after the regular season. For De La Rosa, that number stands at 1,465⅔ innings pitched.
By way of comparison, reliever Hunter Strickland pitched just seven regular-season innings for the San Francisco Giants in 2014, his first MLB season, before pitching in Game 1 of the NLDS vs. the Nationals. The Giants went on to win the World Series.
While Hernandez will have to wait until next year for another crack at reaching the postseason, De La Rosa's drought may finally come to an end when the Diamondbacks host his former team, the Rockies, in the National League wild-card game on Wednesday.
"Ever since the team starting doing well this season, I've thought about it. I said to myself, 'I believe this is going to be my chance'. So hopefully I can pitch a bit in the playoffs. ... I think it's something everyone dreams of," said De La Rosa. He signed a minor league contract with Arizona prior to the start of the 2017 season after struggling last year with the Rockies, going 8-9 with a 5.51 ERA.
With Arizona, De La Rosa was moved to the bullpen and posted a 4.21 ERA with a 3-1 record and 17 holds, and he stranded 33 of 34 inherited baserunners. The 36-year-old made 65 appearances out of the bullpen this season, second on the D-backs to Andrew Chafin (71 games).
Asked about his past near miss at getting his first postseason experience in 2009 and his opportunity to finally get a chance this October, De La Rosa was direct about what it will mean to him.
"In 2009 (the Rockies) made it to the playoffs, but in the last game I pitched in Los Angeles I got injured; I pulled my groin," De La Rosa said. "I was already scheduled to pitch, but after the groin injury I couldn't pitch in the playoffs.
"It's something I'm really looking forward to. I want to be in the playoffs and pitch in a game. I think it will be unforgettable.
"You start every year thinking you will (make it to the playoffs). I was in Colorado for many years and we had good teams, but there were always injuries and we didn't have a chance to make it to the playoffs. This year I have felt really good in my new role and I think I have helped the team to get where it did, and I am really happy about that."
De La Rosa's veteran presence has been a mainstay in the Diamondbacks' bullpen this season. It's the first time De La Rosa has been a full-time reliever after spending his entire career with Colorado as a member of the starting rotation. With Colorado, he posted an 86-61 record and is the franchise's all-time leader in wins.
As to his possible first career playoff appearance coming on the heels of the Rockies also returning to the postseason, De La Rosa said he is happy for his former teammates, who he believes are more than worthy opponents.
"Well, it's a coincidence, but I know that they also have a good team. Since last year you could see that they were building a good team, and I am very happy for them. I have many friends that I left behind in Colorado and I'm really happy for them, but certainly happier for me and for my team," De La Rosa said.
"I know that they are friends of mine, but as much as they will try to get a hit against me or hit a home run, I try to get them out or strike them out. That's part of the game. As they say, there are no friends inside the lines. It's all about competing and always trying to win."