Royals' Bullington persists for eight years, picks up first victory

David Brown
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After kicking around the minor leagues for most of the past eight years, Kansas City Royals right-hander Bryan Bullington(notes) finally seized the moment.

Bullington, the top overall pick in the 2002 major league draft, shut out the New York Yankees on two hits over eight innings Sunday and picked up his first major league victory as the Royals won 1-0.

Eight years is a long time to work, wait and wonder. Said Bullington:

"I'm 29. Creeping up on 30. I've been kind of plodding along, been down the last couple of years. It feels really good today, that's for sure."

Bullington even survived a scare from Yankees slugger Alex Rodriguez(notes). A-Rod, who had homered in his final three at-bats the night before, drove a pitch nearly to the fence in center. Gregor Blanco(notes) caught it on the warning track.

"When it left the bat, you could tell he hit it pretty well," Bullington said. "But there was enough wind coming in that Gregor was able to get back on it."

Yankees manager Joe Girardi figured it had the distance.

"I thought it was gone when he hit it," said [Girardi].

Many thought Bullington's career was off to the races once he was drafted.

The Pirates made Bullington the top pick in '02, bypassing the likes of B.J. Upton(notes), Zack Greinke(notes) and Prince Fielder(notes), though — like many drafts — it was a quirky group of players.

The Reds picked right-hander Chris Gruler third overall, and he washed out of baseball with shoulder injuries. The Orioles made left-hander Adam Loewen(notes) the fourth pick, and he's now with the Blue Jays organization trying to make it as an outfielder. The Expos picked Clint Everts(notes) with the fifth pick; he's still trying to reach the majors.

Bullington has been lucky by comparison. He reached the majors for one forgettable appearance by his third pro season, but he missed 2006 because of Tommy John elbow ligament replacement surgery. Still, one wonders why the Pirates didn't give him more of a chance.

Bullington was claimed from waivers by the Cleveland Indians in 2008, and the Toronto Blue Jays did the same in '09. The Royals signed him as a six-year minor league free agent before this season.

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[Photos: More of rookie pitcher Bryan Bullington]

Along the way, Bullington compiled a 3.69 ERA and 1.301 WHIP in 816 minor-league innings. He also appeared in 19 major league games, making six starts, before Sunday. Bullington's previous start, against the Angels on Aug. 10, was solid.

He thinks he might be onto something.

"I had a few brief [major league] stints," Bullington said, "but this is the first time I myself believe I belong here and can pitch at this level."

Bullington is proof that nobody hands you a guarantee — even when you're drafted ahead of everyone else.

Royals manager Ned Yost hopes the Royals have found themselves a diamond, after all.

"It's taken him a long time," said Royals manager Ned Yost. "He was touted as a high prospect a couple of times in different organizations, but sometimes you find a late bloomer."

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