While most of the talk in the Cleveland Indians organization this season has surrounded the rise of prospect Francisco Lindor and promotions and demotions of pitchers like T.J. House and Danny Salazar as the team tries to solidify a starting rotation, one player is quietly writing a comeback story that could end up being the biggest of any in the organization this season. That player is Columbus Clippers reliever Tyler Sturdevant.
After missing the entire 2013 season with right shoulder surgery, Sturdevant has returned to the mound and put up staggering numbers. In 39 games split between Akron and Columbus, the 6-foot, 185-pound right-hander is 2-2 with a 2.13 ERA and eight saves. Opponents are faring just .229 against Sturdevant, who has struck out 47 batters in 50.2 innings.
Just a year removed from right shoulder surgery, these stats have a lot of folks asking how Sturdevant is doing this.
“After my rehab, the Indians set me up with the fall league, so I got a few innings there,” said Sturdevant when asked how he’s prepared for his return. “My whole thing was the fact that I wanted to be prepared going into spring training and feeling like I was ready to go with some innings under my belt. So they got me into the fall league, and then Ruben Niebla (Indians minor league pitching coordinator) set me up with a job in Puerto Rico, so I went down and played there for a couple months.
“I think I got six or seven innings, but you know it was exactly what I needed physically and mentally. I got a few innings, got some confidence, and got back in games which is the biggest thing to be prepared to go back to spring training.”
This isn’t the first setback in Sturdevant’s baseball career. At New Mexico State University, he sat out his entire junior season after undergoing Tommy John surgery in 2007. Two years later, the Cleveland Indians selected him in the 27th round of the 2009 First-Year Player Draft. Sturdevant believes that experience has helped speed up the process.
“Doing it before you sort of know how tedious things can be with rehab and doing the same thing day in, day out”, said Sturdevant. “Both with shoulder and elbow surgery, there’s no real difference between any kind of surgery. It’s going to be tedious. It’s going to be your day-to-day things. It’s going to take some mental toughness to get through months of rehab.”
After starting his professional career in Mahoning Valley, Sturdevant opened the 2010 season in Low-A Lake County and quickly generated some buzz. In 16 games, the righty was 3-0 with a 0.76 ERA, earning himself a promotion to High-A Kinston where he finished the season 3-2 with a 3.72 ERA in 15 appearances.
Sturdevant was back in Kinston to start the 2011 campaign and went 4-2 with a 1.93 ERA in 21 appearances. He was promoted to Double-A Akron and then Columbus, where he pitched in a playoff game for the Clippers before being placed on the disabled list with right shoulder soreness.
In 2012, Sturdevant started the year in extended spring training with a sore right shoulder, but fought off the pain to pitch in 29 games (1-3, 4.42 ERA, .293 opponent batting average) with Carolina, Akron, and Columbus. After posting career lows and the shoulder pain still present, Sturdevant opted for surgery.
Sturdevant launched his 2014 comeback in Akron, baffling batters right out of the gate. In 24 appearances, he was 1-1 with a 1.45 ERA and seven saves, limiting opponents to a .179 batting average.
“I was excited to be in Akron,” said Sturdevant. “Every year’s a gift, especially after having surgery and stuff like that.”
On June 20, Sturdevant received more great news. He was being promoted to Columbus.
“I was excited to be with a team again whether it was Akron or Columbus, but yeah I’m excited to be here,” said Sturdevant. “Ready to just keep working and hopefully put myself in a good spot for the end of the year.”
Since joining Columbus, Sturdevant is 1-1 (3.00 ERA) with one save and is holding opponents to a .229 batting average in 14 appearances.
It’s safe to say that Sturdevant has put himself in position to be in a good spot for the end of the year, and if he continues to progress at this speed, he has a legitimate shot to be on a big league roster in 2015. Keep an eye on him.
Photo: Joe Santry / Columbus Clippers