By Rob Rains
Waiting to play baseball is nothing new for Cardinals’ pitching prospect Steven Gingery.
The shutdown in the sport as a result of the coronavirus pandemic is only the latest reason why Gingery’s return to the mound has been delayed – again.
Since the end of the summer of 2017, Gingery has thrown a total of 29 pitches in two games spread across the last two years, first as a junior at Texas Tech and then last summer for the Cardinals’ rookie Gulf Coast League team.
Gingery was injured in that appearance for Texas Tech in February of 2018, requiring Tommy John surgery. The Cardinals, based largely on his performance as a sophomore the previous year that made him the Big 12 pitcher of the year, selected Gingery in the fourth round of the 2018 draft.
They knew it would be a while before he would recover from the surgery on his left elbow, but they didn’t know he would need a second operation, on the same elbow, last summer that would set him back again.
Before baseball was shut down in March, Gingery was just beginning his throwing program to launch his comeback from the second Tommy John surgery. Now, like every other minor leaguer, he is just waiting for the word that the recovery from the pandemic has reached the point where it is safe to play baseball again.
“I’ve definitely been through some adversity,” Gingery said.
When the Cardinals closed down their minor-league camp, Gingery returned to his home in southern California. He has been able to continue his workouts there.
“I’m basically doing the same program I was doing in Florida,” Gingery said. “I really don’t have any complaints. I haven’t started throwing off a mound yet, throwing from 120 feet. Everything feels good so far.”
The delayed start to the minor league season – if it starts at all this year – should not affect Gingery’s return – his timetable to get back on the mound in a game is still toward the end of this summer.
“It’s definitely a goal to pitch before the end of the year,” Gingery said. “We just have to wait and see what goes on with the virus.”
When that day comes, it will be a special moment for the 22-year-old Gingery because of everything he has gone through the last two years. There was more than once he could have gotten frustrated and decided to give up on baseball, but he said that thought never entered his mind.
“I still believe in myself for sure,” Gingery said. “I’m not one to just give up on things. I like where I’m at.”
Start of a long road
As Gingery prepared for the start of his junior season at Texas Tech in 2018, his confidence level could not have been higher. He was coming off a season when he went 10-1 with a 1.58 ERA and established himself as one of the top left-handed pitchers in college baseball.
That feeling changed pretty quickly. In his first start of the season, on Feb. 17, Gingery came out of the game against Maine after just 2 1/3 innings. He threw only 19 pitches.
It would be his only game that year.
“I felt something in my elbow prior to that start but I really didn’t know what it was or what to make of it at that point,” Gingery said. “I just went ahead and rested for a week or two. I didn’t feel great but I still went out and pitched. I knew something wasn’t right.”
After getting his elbow examined, Gingery heard the news that no pitcher wants to hear – that he needed season-ending surgery. His hopes of repeating the success from the previous year were gone, and so too was the possibility that he might become a first-round pick in the amateur draft that summer.
The Cardinals had complete reports from Gingery’s performance in 2017, however, and when he was still available in the fourth round, they made the selection even though they knew it would be at least a year before he would pitch again.
“I really didn’t know what to expect in the draft,” Gingery said.
“I’m glad it turned out how it did. It’s been an honor to be in this organization. I want to see where it takes me.”
After going through the rehab from the surgery, Gingery returned to the mound on July 29 of last year, pitching for the Gulf Coast League Cardinals. He lasted 2/3 of an inning, throwing only nine pitches.
“It was kind of like the first time, it just didn’t feel great,” Gingery said. “I was eager to get back out there. I can’t pinpoint when it happened, But it happened again.”
Gingery, two months shy of his 22nd birthday, was headed to his second Tommy John surgery – and another year of rehab.
“It’s been tough for sure,” he said. “I’ve definitely learned a lot about how the body works and a lot of new stuff through rehab; different exercises, a lot of mobility stuff that has helped my whole body. I’ve learned a lot through this whole process.
“Like anything there are times when it can get tedious and it can be a grind. But for the most part I’ve really enjoyed getting stronger and learning a bunch of stuff. I think it has definitely helped me too. I appreciate all of the work I’ve done and all the help I’ve gotten from the Cardinals’ staff.”
One of the people Gingery reached out to for advice is another pitcher who has been through his own personal injury battles the last two years – Alex Reyes.
“I talked to him here and there,” Gingery said. “But really it comes down to listening to your own body. You’re the only one who knows how you feel and what you need to do to progress. The big thing is just being honest with yourself.
“There’s not many people in my position who have had surgery in back to back years or been through the same thing as me.”
Gingery is using that experience as a motivating tool.
“I think it would be cool to kind of be one of the first people to actually come back and make a name for myself,” he said.
Cardinals’ scouting director Randy Flores is still one of the people who believes in Gingery, saying he is “beyond optimistic” about what Gingery can do when he is healthy, joining the ranks of Matthew Liberatore and Zach Thompson to give the organization three high-end left-handed pitching prospects.
Gingery appreciates that support from Flores. Other people he knows are not as positive.
“With anything you do you will always have your doubters,” Gingery said. “My whole life I’ve been kind of doubted. It’s not really new to me. I don’t really care what other people have to say.
“You always have people that say stuff. Even in my sophomore year I think I was still a little underappreciated. There’s always critics out there.”
His goal, whenever he pitches again, is to turn those people into believers.
“I’m preparing to come out and throw this year and make a name for myself again,” Gingery said. “If it’s not this year, then next year. I really just want to feel good. If I feel good I know I can compete with anyone.
“I wouldn’t wish bad upon anyone, especially what I’ve been through. I wouldn’t wish surgery on anyone. I like seeing people doing good and I’m also rooting for myself too. I love seeing people succeed. I’m ready for my time for sure. I know I will be back and I know I will succeed.”
Follow Rob Rains on Twitter @RobRains
Photo courtesy of Texas Tech Athletics