Jared Hughes and Marc Rzepczynski appear to be headed in separate ways after walking similar paths for so many years.
Both are graduates of current Trinity League high schools, and each took side-by-side tracks to become major-league pitchers. They developed into dependable left-handed relievers, usually called upon to face the opposition’s best left-handed hitter in tense late-inning situations.
But while Hughes is coming off the best season of his MLB career, Rzepczynski is hoping to rebound from the worst.
Hughes appeared in a career-high 72 games for the Cincinnati Reds last season, finishing with the best ERA of his career (1.94) and the most innings pitched (78).
Hughes is in the second year of a two-year $4.5 million contract, and the Reds have the option of picking up the 2020 season. That will likely occur if Hughes can perform anywhere near as consistent as he did last season.
Rzepczynski enters the 2019 season without a team after finishing last season with the Seattle Mariners. He held a workout in the middle of January to gauge the interest of major-league teams.
Rzepczynski began last season with the Mariners before he was released in June. He spent a month with the Cleveland Indians before the Mariners brought him back and assigned him to their minor-league level. He finished with a 9.39 ERA in 7 2/3 innings with the Mariners.
After having so much in common from the time they were born in the summer of 1985, Hughes and Rzepczynski couldn’t be further apart heading into the 2019 season.
Hughes starred at Santa Margarita High School and Rzepczynski at Servite, both graduating in 2003.
Rzepczynski wasn’t drafted out of high school, while Hughes was selected in the 16th round by the Tampa Bay Rays.
Hughes decided against signing a pro contract, instead enrolling at Santa Clara University, while Rzepczynski headed to UC Riverside. Eight months after graduating from high school, they faced off against each other in their college debuts.
After one season with Santa Clara, Hughes would transfer to Long Beach State, where he and Rzepczynski would continue competing against each other as members of the Big West Conference.
Following his junior year at Long Beach, Hughes was taken in the fourth round of the 2006 MLB Draft by the Pittsburgh Pirates.
Rzepczynski would pitch one more year at UC Riverside before he was taken in the fifth round of the 2007 draft by the Toronto Blue Jays.
Rzepczynski would beat Hughes to the major leagues, however.
He made his debut as a starting pitcher with the Blue Jays on July 7, 2009. The third batter he faced was Evan Longoria, who had played at St. John Bosco High School and also graduated in 2003. Rzepczynski struck him out and then went on to allow two runs and one hit over six strong innings, though the Blue Jays eventually lost in extra innings.
Hughes would break into the big leagues two years later, the same year Rzepczynski was permanently moved to the bullpen. He pitched to five batters in his debut against the Houston Astros.
Rzepczynski would separate himself from Hughes in one major way.
He won a World Series ring with the St. Louis Cardinals in 2011 and has appeared in 21 postseason games overall. Hughes has appeared in one playoff game, an NL wild-card loss to the San Francisco Giants in 2014.