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The Yankee who went five years between hits

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A collection of odd circumstances led to a crazy long drought for one backup catcher.

Tampa Bay Devil Rays v New York Yankees Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images

Kyle Highasioka’s first hit came in his 12th career game. That’s a bit of a slow start, but not completely unheard of. What was weird about it was that those 12 games were spread across multiple seasons, meaning that he got off the mark well over a year after he made his major league debut.

This is not a story of someone waiting to get their first major league hit, but it is about someone who went an impressively long time without one.

Wil Nieves was first drafted by the Padres in the 47th round of the 1995 draft. He had a good reputation as a defensive catcher, but didn’t exactly put up overwhelming hitting numbers. After seven years in various stops in San Diego’s system, he made his debut on July 21, 2002 against the Diamondbacks. In the fifth inning in his third at bat of the game, he recorded a single for his first major league hit.

Nieves played in 28 games for the Padres in 2002, but after the season he was selected off waivers by the Angels. He spent two seasons in their system but during spring training in 2005, the Yankees acquired him.

Jorge Posada was obviously entrenched as the starter at the catcher’s spot, while John Flaherty was still around as the backup. Due to that, Nieves spent most of the season in Triple-A, however, he did come up in September. He played in three games, all as defensive replacement, and went 0-4 in his only four plate appearances.

It was a similar case the next season, only with a Kelly Stinnett/Sal Fasano combination playing the role of Flaherty. This time, Nieves made six September appearances, even getting one start. However, he again went hit-less, walk-less, or whatever else-less, going 0-6 in his only six plate appearances.

However in 2007, Nieves won the backup catcher’s job out of spring training and went north to the Bronx with the team. He also became the personal catcher for Mike Mussina as the future Hall of Famer went through a down season.

However in the offensive aspects of his game, things weren’t going great. He did not record a hit in all of April, going 0-15. He did technically get on base once, but it was on a fielder’s choice following an error. That meant that his OBP also stayed at .000. May didn’t start any better, as went went 0-6 in his first two games.

On May 9th in his third at bat of the game, Nieves singled off C.J. Wilson. That ended an 0-33 streak with the Yankees. If you add in two at bats in his last game as a Padre, that makes it an 0-35 run. The single came four years, eight months, and ten days since his last prior major league hit.

The Yankees kept Nieves around through July, but they would pick up Jose Molina and use him in the backup catcher’s spot. Nieves returned to Triple-A, and was granted free agency at the end of the season. He went on to play in 12 major league seasons with seven different teams.

There are players out there with longer 0-for streaks. There are players out there who went a longer time span between major league hits. However, the combination of 0-35 in a near five-year time frame is something you just don’t see every day.