With 60 days remaining before Indians pitchers and catchers report to Goodyear, Ariz., it appears the Tribe does not have too many roster spots available on the pitching staff heading to Opening Day. However, a player competing for one of those open spots is left-handed, relief pitcher Nick Hagadone.
One open spot exists because Chad Durbin filed for free agency and is not expected to return to the Tribe. Hagadone, along with Zach Putnam, Chen Lee and incumbent Frank Herrmann, will compete for the final two spots in the bullpen. “The open spot or two in the bullpen is the type of thing I try not to pay any attention to,” Hagadone said. “Getting caught up in any distractions will only take away from my preparation for the season. I’ll be ready to compete from the beginning of Spring Training regardless of the situation.”
Hagadone started 2011 at AA-Akron, pitching in 12 games and 22.2 innings before being promoted to AAA-Columbus. He spent most of his season with the Clippers, appearing in 34 games, pitching 48.1 innings, striking out 53 hitters and compiling a 3.35 ERA and 4-3 record. He was rewarded for his strong season with a Sept. 1 call up to Cleveland.
“Going into the 2011 season, I set a goal for myself to end the year in Cleveland. I changed my focus from worrying about outside distractions (i.e. what level I was pitching in and when I was going to get promoted), and started focusing on the day to day process of becoming a better pitcher,” Hagadone said. “I knew that it wasn’t where I started the season but where I ended that was most important. I went into the year knowing that I had something to prove and using that mentality I was able to have some success.
With his 2011 goal met and a new approach to progressing through the Indians’ minor league system, Hagadone reaped the benefits of his success and appeared in nine games in September with the Tribe. He pitched 11 innings, allowing four hits, a 4.09 ERA and recording his first major league victory. “Getting the experience in September was huge for me,” Hagadone said. “It was a confidence booster to know that I can compete at the highest level. I’m excited to go into Spring Training and compete.”
His drive to compete for 2012 began almost immediately after 2011 finished. Hagadone, a former University of Washington standout, returns to his school and trains daily for the upcoming season. His September call-up actually slowed down his offseason training program, but pushed him to begin immediately. “I got home on Oct 1, and started on Monday the third,” Hagadone said. “My good friend and trainer, Hans Straub, designed a program that takes me from the end of the season to the beginning of Spring Training. The program is unbelievably hard but gets me prepared to endure a complete 162-game season.”
Hagadone attributes much of his success and development as a pitcher to his three years with the Huskies, during which he worked with an outstanding coaching staff and other pitchers with the same big league expectations and work ethic, including Tim Lincecum.
“My time at UW was a great experience and I wouldn’t be here today without the three years that I spent there. Coach (Ken) Knutson helped me to improve my arm strength and arm action. We did this through playing long toss and doing various drills,” Hagadone said. “Being around Tim Lincecum and watching how he went about his business everyday was priceless. Tim showed us what it took to be the best and gave me something to aspire to.”
Hagadone left Washington when the Boston Red Sox drafted him as the 55th overall pick in the 2007 Major League Baseball amateur draft. He began his professional career as a starting pitcher with the Red Sox, however, his season was cut short in June 2008 when he had to have Tommy John surgery. The surgery often strengthens a pitchers elbow and velocity, but the work and rehabilitation can be excruciating.
“Having Tommy John was definitely a setback, but I knew that if I attacked the rehab process I would come back better than before. The main emphasis of rehab is to build up your shoulder strength while your elbow heals and regains range of motion,” Hagadone said. “After four months, I started the throwing program and gradually built up to throwing off a mound at full strength at around 10 months. I threw my first rehab game at 10 and a half months, and now my elbow feels new again. It was a mental grind, but I’m a better player because of it.”
He rebounded to have a strong first half of the season at Greenville, the Red Sox A-level affiliate, before being dealt to the Tribe along with Justin Masterson and Bryan Price for catcher Victor Martinez. Many players feel snake-bitten when their original team trades them, feeling as if someone has given up on them, but Hagadone had a different approach or view.
“The trade was a big surprise to me, but I took it as a compliment. Being part of a trade for Victor Martinez was an honor and I have no hard feelings towards the Red Sox,” Hagadone said. “I know it’s a business and I’m happy to be where I am now.”
Where he finds himself now is on the cusp of becoming a mainstay in the Tribe bullpen. After finishing 2009 as a starting pitcher with the Tribe, he began converting to a relief pitcher in 2010 at AA-Akron. This last season was his first full season as a relief pitcher. “You have to have a different mentality being a reliever. This year I was in that role full-time and it made me develop a routine to be ready for every game,” Hagadone said.
The now full-time relief pitcher turns 26 on New Year’s Day, and will look to earn one of the two open spots in the Tribe bullpen. If he wins one of the spots in Spring Training, he most likely will find himself at the front of the bullpen, pitching in the middle of games and trying to work his way to the back end as opportunities present themselves. Hagadone knows his strengths and goals and continues to work toward them.
“I love to compete and to win. I go right after the hitters and pitch to my strengths,” Hagadone said. “In order to keep progressing I need to never be satisfied. Once I reach a goal, I readjust my sights and shoot for something more. I believe that approach will help me to improve day to day and from season to season.”
Certainly this winter’s work is with the goal in mind to start this season where last year’s ended: pitching in the Indians’ bullpen.
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