“Little more grateful, little different perspective on playing now,” Ranburne’s Chase Whitley said Wednesday morning on his first four days of action with the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Railriders, as the New York Yankees’ Triple-A affiliate of the International League is known this season. “Even though it wasn’t a career-ending or life-threatening type thing, it changes your perspective a little bit.”
Whitley went to spring training with the Yankees as a non-roster invitee in the best shape of his life. Pitching in what was supposed to be his final appearance of the spring, he felt a twinge in his left side and left the mound immediately. The injury was diagnosed as a slight oblique strain but the Yankees opted for conservative treatment. When almost everyone else headed north for the start of the regular season, Whitley stayed in Florida. He didn’t throw at all for two weeks then threw only on flat ground for two more weeks.
He described the forced vacation as “the most difficult time probably I’ve had since I started playing baseball.”
“The last time I hadn’t been able to play baseball on a regular basis was my freshman year of high school when I broke my arm. That’s the only time I’ve been taken out. I’ve been blessed with the ability to stay healthy,” Whitley said.
Over two more weeks, he pitched in five extended spring training games for a total of six innings.
“The first couple of times I threw there was just soreness but after that I’ve been good,” he recalled. “It was a minor thing but they treated it like it was a major thing so hopefully it won’t re-injure.”
On Friday of last week, he was told to pack his bags and head to Columbus to join the Railriders on a road trip. After traveling Friday, Whitley entered Saturday’s game in the bottom of the fourth inning with two outs, two runs in and a Columbus runner on first. A ground ball to second base quickly ended that threat. He pitched again Tuesday, this time coming into the game in the sixth with a runner on second and again got the final out of the inning without additional damage. Two appearances, two inherited runners stranded.
“Any reliever takes pride in being able to keep inherited runners from scoring,” Whitley said, noting that at the major league level more often than not he would be called into a game with men on base.
In Saturday’s game, he gave up a hit and a walk in the fifth then worked his way out of trouble with two strikeouts.
Whitley spent all but the first week of the 2012 season with Scranton and last year’s coaching staff, including manager Dave Miley and pitching coach Scott Aldred, returns intact. He expects he’ll be used much as he was last year, a reliever able get five, six or seven outs rather than just go one inning.
“Right now is usually when you’re in midseason form. I would probably say I’m right around where you’d be in April,” Whitley speculated. “But then again, I’ve got two outings under my belt now. That was just basically to get my feet wet, get back going. Now I can start being used more often. I feel like it will get better each and every time out as far as getting sharper, getting back.
If I’m not ready I’m pretty dang close.”
The late start has been good but not perfect. Whitley has been his own worst enemy as wild pitches led to a run in each appearance.
“I guess you can say that goes with the early-season stuff but I’m not going to make any excuses. I’ve got to be better than throwing the ball to the backstop. … The way I pitch, throwing a lot of balls from a changeup that goes down, obviously there are going to be times when I do have a few more wild pitches than a guy that doesn’t have a pitch that bites down in the dirt. One of them I had (Tuesday) was a fastball that just got away from me. That’ll get cleaned up and hopefully won’t happen again,” Whitley said. “It’s frustrating the way they’ve been able to score or get a couple of guys on but it’s encouraging at the same time that even though my stuff’s not midseason form it’s still effective to get guys out on a regular basis.”
Whitley’s late arrival at Scranton probably cost the Gwinnett Braves 200 to 300 ticket sales. Ranburne folks flocked to Gwinnett’s stadium for last year’s Scranton series but this season’s one trip to Georgia for the Railriders came in early May. Scranton will be in Durham, North Carolina, for a four-game series with the Bulls starting May 31 but that’s as close as the Railriders get to Ranburne for the remainder of the season.