Brock Stewart was born and raised in Normal, Ill., which is kind of ironic.
Nothing about this season has been normal for the Dodgers right-hander, who has shuttled so often between Los Angeles and triple-A Oklahoma City that he probably needs to check his phone every morning to see what time zone he’s in.
Four times since March 10, Stewart has been optioned to triple-A, and four times he has been recalled to the big leagues, with six of those transactions coming this month. In one dizzying seven-day stretch from May 6 to May 12, Stewart was called up to the Dodgers twice and sent back to Oklahoma City twice.
Because Stewart, 26, has minor league options, the Dodgers can send him back and forth between the big leagues and minor leagues as often as they want, using him — some might say abusing him — to plug holes in their bullpen or rotation when needed.
“You just have to do it,” Stewart said after making his first start of the season for the Dodgers on Tuesday night, when he allowed two runs and five hits in four innings of a 5-3 Dodger victory over the Colorado Rockies.
“Somebody has to be that guy who is here and there, up and down, helping out the team when needed. Lately there’s been a need in the bullpen and for some starting spots. I’m happy to do it.”
Stewart has the right temperament for the role, which fellow swingman Ross Stripling has filled as well. He could complain about being tugged in so many different directions, but he hasn’t. His bosses have noticed.
“It takes a special team player and a person who can be tough mentally,” manager Dave Roberts said. “We’ve asked a lot from Brock this year, from the travel miles he’s accrued, the hotel stays … he’s essentially living out of a suitcase.
“For him to show up for a day, be sent out, and to keep his emotions in check and be positive and be ready to post when we need him, that’s a lot to ask, but he’s done a really nice job. He has a very good demeanor. He’s like Ross Stripling — he can handle things that are out of his control and not overthink things.”
All five of Stewart’s triple-A appearances this season have been starts. His first three appearances for the Dodgers this season, on April 30, May 6 and May 11, were in relief.
When a blister on the middle finger of Rich Hill’s pitching hand burst Saturday and the left-hander joined Clayton Kershaw and Hyun-Jin Ryu on the disabled list, the Dodgers summoned Stewart. Again.
Stewart, a sixth-round pick out of Illinois State in 2014, was hardly dominant against the Rockies, striking out one and walking one in a 63-pitch start. But he pitched well enough to keep the Dodgers in a game they eventually won.
“It was a very ‘meh’ outing, stuff-wise,” Stewart said of his fastball, slider and changeup. “It was not good, it was not bad. I got behind pretty much everybody. I had to battle.”
Roberts’ assessment was a little more positive.
“Brock did a really nice job for us in a spot start,” Roberts said. “We haven’t made a decision on his fate going forward, but I think he pitched well enough to get another opportunity.”
The rotation for a three-game series against the San Diego Padres is set. Stripling will start Friday night, Alex Wood will pitch Saturday night, and Walker Buehler will start Sunday.
The Dodgers, who have won six of seven games to move to within 3½ games of first-place Colorado in the National League West, will probably start Stewart in the opener of a four-game series against Philadelphia on Monday night.
Kershaw is scheduled to throw a simulated game of three or four innings on Saturday, and the ace could return to the rotation as soon as next Thursday. Stewart knows he must pitch well to have any shot of remaining in the big leagues, in a starting or relief role.
“Every outing in the big leagues for me, until I’m a mainstay in the bullpen or rotation, is an audition, for sure,” Stewart said. “It’s a little bit tiring being everywhere, but I have perspective about it. It’s not a huge deal.”
The biggest challenge isn’t necessarily traversing the Los Angeles-Oklahoma City corridor. It’s trying to maintain his pitching rhythm — and arm strength — when he’s bouncing back and forth between the rotation and the bullpen.
“It’s not ideal, for sure, but like I said, somebody has to be the guy to be here when the team needs help,” Stewart said. “I’m happy to do it. I’m happy to pitch for the Los Angeles Dodgers, for sure. Every opportunity I get, I try to make the most out of it.”