Angels’ Matt Shoemaker gets wild in first appearance on the mound since head injury
On Friday afternoon, Matt Shoemaker jogged onto the Tempe Diablo Stadium diamond, fired eight warmup pitches, and walked 10 paces behind the mound, his back to the batter’s box. He received a baseball from his third baseman, took off his Angels cap, and adjusted the tucked-in carbon fiber strip that will protect him from what he endured the last time he pitched in a game.
He reapplied his hat, turned around, breathed deeply, and walked back onto the mound to do it again. He pitched for the first time in six months, and he was wild, wonderfully wild, requiring catcher Carlos Perez to come out and ease his mind multiple times.
And Shoemaker came out of it perfectly fine.
“I got out there, and I got a little excited,” Shoemaker said. “There was so much excitement that, especially in the first inning, I was overthrowing everything. It’s good to recognize that. It was challenging, but in a good way.”
On Sept. 4, a 105-mph line drive off Kyle Seager’s bat struck Shoemaker in the temple. The Angels’ right-hander required emergency surgery that night to cease bleeding in his brain and save his life.
He has crossed several milestones since: turning 30, his second child’s birth, his first exercise, his first time throwing, his first time throwing off a mound, his first time facing hitters, and now this.
He struck out free-swinging Keon Broxton to begin. Jonathan Villar next ripped Shoemaker’s first pitch for a single to right. With Villar, last year’s MLB stolen-base leader, on first, Shoemaker threw over twice. The second pickoff was errant, Villar took second, and Domingo Santana walloped the next pitch for a home run, clearing the left-field wall by 50 feet.
Two pitches later, Travis Shaw hit a ball about as far to right, but foul. Shoemaker walked him, but induced a double-play grounder two pitches later, and ran back to the dugout. Teammates paraded by to congratulate him in the middle of the inning.
In the second, Shoemaker induced a flyout, walked a man, threw a wild pitch, and gave up a liner that went for an out. Against top Brewers prospect Orlando Arcia, he finally found his stuff and notched a swinging strikeout.
He returned to the dugout and mimed his overeager delivery with Perez and pitching coach Charles Nagy.
“I was overthrowing every pitch, fastball, breaking ball, didn’t matter,” Shoemaker said. “Really, honestly, I wasn’t happy with my pitches until literally the last batter, when I threw a good fastball down and away and a good breaking ball.
“I finally took a breath and tried to calm down a little bit.”
For Shoemaker, there should be five more spring-training starts before the regular season begins, time aplenty to fix his mistakes. Shoemaker’s father, David, will be in town for the next start, the next milestone.
Jett Bandy was catching Shoemaker that September afternoon in Seattle. He remembers the sound the ball made and the fear he felt as it unfolded before him. A Brewer now after a December trade, Bandy batted against Shoemaker in Friday’s second inning. He didn’t realize until afterward that it was the pitcher’s first game since the accident.
“It’s just great to see him back out there,” Bandy said. “It’s one thing to face live hitters in spring training, and stuff like that. This was game-like. This was, like, a real game.”
In relief of Shoemaker, Huston Street made his 2017 debut. Before the 10th pitch he threw, he shook his arm, alarming the team’s coaches and trainers, who rushed out to the mound when he did the same before his next pitch. He immediately exited the game.
The club later announced he had irritated his right triceps muscle. He underwent an MRI exam, which had not yet been examined by a team doctor Friday night.
“We’re not going to overreact,” Manager Mike Scioscia said. “We’ll just see where we are when we get some information from the medical department.”
A scout in attendance timed Street’s fastball between 84 and 85 mph, his slider at 81, and changeup at 78 mph, all below his career norms. Street has often said he does not worry about early-spring velocity.
Follow Pedro Moura on Twitter @pedromoura
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