Add Roger Salkeld to the growing list of those surprised by Roger Salkeld.
Of course the former Saugus High right-hander believed he could rebound from delicate shoulder surgery to pitch again. But this soon? And this well?
Making his first appearance since 1991, Salkeld pitched five scoreless innings for the double-A Jacksonville (Fla.) Suns on Friday night against Huntsville (Ala.). Salkeld did not get a decision because Jacksonville lost, 5-3, in 10 innings.
Salkeld, who was once the Seattle Mariners’ top pitching prospect, allowed only three hits, walked two and struck out seven, including five in the first two innings. He threw 75 pitches, 50 for strikes.
“I didn’t think I’d do that well,” Salkeld said Saturday from Jacksonville. “I’m more than happy with the way things went last night.”
Jacksonville pitching coach Jeff Andrews said Salkeld threw his fastball between 87 and 91 m.p.h., not the 96 m.p.h. he threw before the surgery but good enough for this stage in his rehabilitation.
Salkeld, 22, said he didn’t feel any pain while he was pitching but “I am a little sore today.”
Andrews said the next few days will be critical to see if Salkeld can bounce back and be ready to start again on four days’ rest.
The Mariners are cautiously optimistic.
“Anybody who has surgery like Roger had usually takes 18 months to come back,” Mariner farm director Jim Beattie said. “He’s a strong kid and he’s come back quickly. We’re surprised but still cautious. With this type of injury it’s a matter of remaining healthy.”
Last October, some feared the worst about Salkeld, to whom the Mariners paid a $225,000 bonus after they selected him with the third pick in the 1989 draft.
After steaming through the minors, Salkeld was invited to the major league spring training camp in 1992 and expected to make his Mariner debut sometime that year. But it was during that spring that he started to have mystery pain in his shoulder that eventually caused him to miss the entire season.
Doctors were unsure of the cause. Finally, on Oct. 6, noted orthopedist Dr. Frank Jobe planned to do arthroscopic surgery to remove bone chips. But once in the operating room, Jobe discovered the problem was more serious and he performed reconstructive surgery on Salkeld’s right shoulder capsule.
The general prognosis was Salkeld would miss the 1993 season, at least. Some reports filtered out of Seattle that his career might be over before it really began. Done at 21.
Salkeld, who was staying at his parents’ home in Saugus after the surgery, was pessimistic for only a short time.
“The way I felt, I thought I’d never throw again,” Salkeld said, “but once I started getting some stretching in, it just got better and better every day. People told me not to push it. I just went as hard as my arm would allow.”
For about two months after the surgery, Salkeld’s routine included nothing but running, stretching and weightlifting. He didn’t touch a baseball until December, when he started playing catch. By April, he was pitching off a mound.
In May, he began pitching in exhibition games during extended spring training in Arizona. He threw five innings four times. Earlier this month, he pitched for Seattle in an exhibition game against Calgary, the Mariners’ triple-A affiliate.
Salkeld pitched five innings and won that game. From there, he went to Seattle to work with Mariner pitching coach Sammy Ellis, who wanted to straighten out some of Salkeld’s mechanics before he was assigned to a minor league club. Finally, pitching--not pain--was the concern.
Friday night was the culmination of the first phase of Salkeld’s recovery.
“I wasn’t nervous or anything,” he said. “I was excited to be back and part of the team.”
Salkeld spent most of the 1991 season in Jacksonville, where he was 8-8 with a 3.05 earned-run average and had 159 strikeouts in 153 2/3 innings. But the Salkeld who pitched Friday night was not exactly the same one who took the mound there two years ago.
This is one has a little less on his fastball and a little more in his head.
“I think the surgery is going to teach me to be a better pitcher,” he said. “Instead of relying on my fastball, I have to use all corners of the plate. I have to think.”
Salkeld said he is also wiser when it comes to maintaining the most valuable tool he has.
“I hurt myself because I didn’t take care of my arm,” he said. “I didn’t do what it took to be ready and it’s taken the surgery to teach me that’s what it takes to make the majors.”
Whether he can make it to Seattle from Jacksonville is still a huge question. After all, he still hasn’t pitched more than five innings. And even if his shoulder is completely healed, that doesn’t automatically restore his status as the organization’s top prospect.
“What he is now is a minor league pitcher on a staff trying to make the big leagues,” Andrews said, “just like everyone else.”