Matt Whitehouse is 25 years old and in Low-A. For those who don’t know his story, this doesn’t seem like a smart career choice. Most of his teammates are born in 1994 or later. He’s the oldest on the roster, but for Whitehouse, this isn’t a problem.
This is his chance to reclaim his career.
It’s a chance Whitehouse almost didn’t get. Two years ago, during the 2014 season, the pitcher was on the mound in South Bend, Indiana, when the unthinkable happened. He threw his second pitch of his second inning of work.
“I felt a pop in my arm,” Whitehouse said. “And that was that.”
It was mid-June, right at the Low-A All-Star break. Whitehouse went to a doctor and made the decision to try to rehab his arm.
“It was 70 percent torn,” Whitehouse said of his injury. “It was a Grade 2 tear. [Rehab] didn’t work, so by the end of August, we decided to go with surgery.”
Whitehouse underwent Tommy John surgery, which sidelined him just as his career was getting started. He began the year-long recovery process, which he said was just as much a mental journey as it was physical.
“Every day, you go out and do the physical part, and you know what you’re expected to do,” Whitehouse said. “But it’s more mental, staying into it and everything.”
During his rehab, Whitehouse pitched in two games for the Arizona League Indians during their 2015 season. He totaled 1.2 innings of work, striking out and walking three batters each.
Prior to his injury, Whitehouse had spent time in both Mahoning Valley and with the Captains. His 2013 campaign with the Scrappers resulted in a 0.72 ERA for the left-handed pitcher, with 29 strikeouts. He gave up nine runs (three earned) on 22 hits. In 2014, he posted a 5.51 ERA in eleven games prior to his injury.
So far this season, Whitehouse has appeared in three games for the Captains, totaling 6.1 innings of work. He has struck out eight batters and walked two, and given up seven hits. He currently has a 1.42 ERA.
“It’s going real well so far,” Whitehouse said of the 2016 season. “It’s a physical and mental grind every day. I’m just glad to be back out here. I’m getting back into shape and just getting the comfort on the mound. I’m feeling like a pitcher again, not just a guy who’s throwing.”
His Tommy John surgery wasn’t Whitehouse’s first brush with injury. While it was his most major setback to date, Whitehouse also experienced injury during his collegiate years at UC Irvine.
“I had a red shirt [in college],” Whitehouse said. “It was nothing serious, no surgery or anything. It was a knee injury that led to a shoulder issue. I missed most of the season.
“This more recent injury was one of the big injuries, though. I was out, basically, for a year and a half, two years.”
Despite being out for so long, Whitehouse always knew he wanted to get back on the mound.
“[Going back to baseball] was always the decision,” Whitehouse said. “That’s what I want to do; that’s every little kid’s dream and that’s still my dream right now. I knew, after a year of rehab, that I wasn’t going to do that for no purpose.
“My whole purpose going into rehab every day was getting back out here on the field and pitching again.”
As a more veteran member of this year’s Captains squad, Whitehouse said he tries to be a mentor for his younger teammates.
“A lot of these guys have a good handle on everything,” Whitehouse acknowledged, “but I think guys who have questions know they can come talk to me. I think I’m a pretty personable guy.”
One of the biggest lessons Whitehouse can pass along to the team this season, though, is to fully enjoy the time they have on the field and with each other. Whitehouse said truly appreciating his career path was one of the biggest things he took away from his brushes with potentially career-threatening injuries.
“I think [injuries] teach you to appreciate every day,” Whitehouse said. “There’s one pitch, and that could be your last pitch. It’s not just the on-the-field stuff you’re going to miss, either, it’s the clubhouse stuff, being with all the guys and living with your teammates, the daily grind of everything and having guys to talk to and joke around with. I think that’s the big thing injuries teach you – how special the game is, how you take it for granted sometimes, and how you shouldn’t do that.”
Photo: Carl Kline/MiLB.com