Minors Report: Gardner bounces back
Reds righty makes long recovery from shoulder surgery
By Mark Sheldon / MLB.com
SARASOTA, Fla. --- Pained and discouraged by the long, slow slog that is shoulder surgery rehab, pitcher Richie Gardner once considered chucking his big league dream, packing his bag and going home to California.
What stopped him? His wife, Heather.
"My wife is what kept me going," Gardner said. "I wanted to quit. Well, I didn't want to quit, but at times it got so rough that I felt like, 'Why am I doing this?' She was on me and told me to give it two years. If it's not back after two years, I could shut it down. It took about a year and a half."
Gardner, Cincinnati's sixth-round pick in the 2003 First-Year Player Draft, was a fast-rising prospect until August 2005, when a torn labrum in his right shoulder required career-derailing reconstructive surgery.
It's the scenario every pitcher dreads most, especially since Gardner had already reached Double-A Chattanooga in just his second year of pro ball.
"It was terrible. It really was," Gardner said. "It's probably the worst thing a player can go through."
In 2004, Gardner won the Sheldon "Chief" Bender Award as the Reds' Minor League Player of the Year as he led the farm system with a 2.53 ERA. In 2005, USA Today named Gardner the Reds' best pitching prospect.
The surgery forced Gardner to start over. In 2006, he was with the Gulf Coast League and Class A Sarasota and made nine starts. Last year, he got back on track.
"I couldn't even throw from the windup last Spring Training," Gardner said. "When the season started, [Sarasota pitching coach] Tom Brown helped me. He kind of got my motion and rhythm back. Everything was good from there."
Gardner, 26, zoomed across three levels in 2007. He was 5-1 with a 1.65 ERA in seven starts at Sarasota, and 2-1 with a 1.82 ERA in six starts at Chattanooga. Combined, he walked just nine and struck out 58. In 13 starts to finish the season at Triple-A Louisville, he went 4-5 with a 5.71 ERA.
"It's a remarkable story," Reds Minor League director Terry Reynolds said. "A year ago, he was stuck in rehab wondering if he could pitch again. His attitude was great. He knows how to pitch. I don't know if he's back to where he was, but he's close. He's kind of right back on schedule."
The Reds added Gardner to their 40-man roster in November, which brought him to big league camp this spring.
"It's a great reward for the work he put in," Reynolds said.
The right-handed Gardner said his velocity is back up to the high 80s and 90 mph.
"It's exciting. I can't say that I can't sleep because I'm tired," Gardner said. "But I'm excited every time I wake up. Two years ago and last year, I was basically on the rack. I had no idea if I was going to play well again like I was capable of.
"My arm strength is different. I don't get as tired. I feel like I can extend better. It's just easier to pitch."
The Reds will have 134 players in their Minor League camp when the full squad reports on March 5. Every spring, Reynolds and his staff has to go through the process of evaluating all of those players and assigning them to a Minor League level.
"The No. 1 thing is to get them in shape for the season," Reynolds said. "But with year-round conditioning, many of the guys are ready from Day 1. For some it's just getting game ready. No. 2, it's getting the right guys in the right spots, not just from a development standpoint, but a success standpoint. It's important to get the right players on the right rosters before we leave."
Minor League pitchers and catchers report on Friday, but many have already trickled into the complex beyond Ed Smith Stadium.
He's No. 1: This will be the second camp for 2006 first-round Draft pick Drew Stubbs, who spent last season in the Midwest League with Class A Dayton.
Stubbs batted .270 with 12 home runs and 43 RBIs in 129 games. One of the best athletes in the organization, and the fastest, the 23-year-old center fielder also swiped 23 bases, but was caught 15 times. One area that needs improvement is strikeouts. Stubbs struck 142 times in 497 at-bats.
Stubbs is expected to move up a notch to Sarasota in the Florida State League, where the club will want him to make more use of his speed.
"He covers a lot of ground in the outfield and he's fast to first base," Reynolds said. "He needs to make contact, bunt, get high choppers -- things he'll learn through his pro career."
Class of 2007: The Reds found a way to turn reliever Scott Schoeneweis' brief 2006 stay into something with more long-term promise. Right-hander Kyle Lotzkar was selected as a 2007 first-round supplemental pick [53rd overall] as compensation for losing Schoeneweis to free agency.
Lotzkar, an 18-year-old from British Columbia, posted a 3.10 ERA in nine starts combined with the Gulf Coast League and rookie level Billings.
What they're saying: "He's working on it. With his makeup and aptitude, he should improve," Reynolds, on Stubbs' effort to cut down on strikeouts