When Louis Head‘s teammates cleared the room following a celebratory shower of anything they could find — from condiments to shaving cream — the Marlins right-hander noticed his tears. Collecting his first career save in Sunday’s 5-4 win over the Braves was not within the realm of possibility 14 months ago.
An 18th-round pick out of Texas State in the 2012 MLB Draft, Head had yet to receive his first big league callup when the Mariners released him in May ’20 during the COVID-19 shutdown.
Thinking that was the end of his playing career, he took a job selling solar panels door to door for Pure Energy Solar in Tempe, Ariz., for eight months. Head became so successful that he began training for a future role as sales director. That is until the Rays called, then signed him to a Minor League contract with an invitation to Spring Training in February 2021.
Head started that season at Triple-A Durham before making his Major League debut two days after his 31st birthday. From that point on, Head posted a 0.86 WHIP and a 2.31 ERA in 27 MLB appearances. But there is more than meets the eye with those impressive numbers. He was optioned to the Minors 12 times, setting a record and inspiring a rule in the new collective bargaining agreement that players could be sent down no more than five times in a season.
“There was one point in May when I was in six or seven different cities over five days,” Head said. “It was pretty nuts.”
Marlins infielder Joey Wendle witnessed it all firsthand as an All-Star utility player for the 2021 Rays. Wendle and Head go way back, as members of the same Cleveland Draft class. They spent two years together in that organization before reuniting last season with 100-win Tampa Bay.
“Even though he was up and down so much, he had a huge role on that team,” Wendle said. “He came in as somebody who I think they saw as kind of that swing role, but then transformed into a higher-leverage arm later in the season, which was really impressive to do for somebody’s first year in the Major Leagues, and somebody who had gone through as much adversity as he had last year.”
Head’s time with the Rays didn’t last long, as the Marlins made acquiring Head for a player to be named their first move of a busy Hot Stove season. He brought even more depth to a bullpen that ranked seventh in the Majors with a 3.81 ERA in 2021. Miami would go on to add Cole Sulser and Tanner Scott in a deal with Baltimore a few days before Spring Training ended.
Until Sunday, Head had been pitching in less-stressful scenarios. But with Anthony Bender (hip soreness) and a couple other high-leverage arms unavailable, manager Don Mattingly turned to Head two outs away from a road series win over the reigning World Series champion Braves at Truist Park. With three runs already in, Head surrendered a double to Marcell Ozuna, then regrouped to strike out Adam Duvall and Eddie Rosario and secure the victory.
“The situation was probably the biggest situation I pitched in my career to this point,” said Head, who has opened 2022 with 5 1/3 scoreless innings. “I was really just trying to treat it like any other outing. Go in there and just focus on the batters I was facing and the pitches I had to make and the scouting reports that we had. Just try not to let the situation kind of overwhelm me and make my pitches.”