|Kevin Gowdy, image- Jay Floyd|
The Phillies selected the right-handed California native in the second round of the 2016 draft. Difficulties with his health held him to just nine professional regular season innings until this month.
After appearing in four games with the Rookie level Gulf Coast League Phillies in 2016, Gowdy was assigned to extended spring training to open the 2017 season. While there, the six-foot-four 170-pounder encountered some tightness in his right elbow. Initially, the discomfort didn't strike Gowdy as serious pain, so he pitched through it. The tightness soon became unbearable agony that he could no longer ignore. Magnetic imaging was prescribed and it was determined that the hurler was facing a torn ulnar collateral ligament in the elbow of his pitching arm. Tommy John surgery was required.
Recovery would go normally. He dealt with shoulder soreness, which is said to be typical for those recovering from the procedure. Later, when he began to throw sliders, the faced a strain of his flexor tendon. The familiar discomfort instilled fear in the youngster.
"When my elbow would come back like this," Gowdy said while gesturing a throwing motion, "I would feel that same pain and I don’t think I slept two nights in a row because I was so close to being fully cleared."
The reservations were there all along as it wasn't just the physical hindrances that Gowdy had to battle through. There were also impediments between his ears that presented challenges.
"About eight or nine months into the rehab I had kind of a mental break(down)," Gowdy explained. "They started saying you can start throwing the ball hard again and something in my mind just wouldn’t let me do that."
Gowdy would work closely with Hannah Huesman, the Phillies' mental skills coach. Various mental exercises, including one that required Gowdy to sing while pitching, would help the talented youngster get past his hang ups.
He also bonded with former Phillies great and two-time Cy Young Award winner Roy Halladay. The veteran maintained an affiliation with the organization, working with young players on the mental side of the game, until the day he passed away. The two were close.
"We worked together a lot on staying positive, ‘cause when my elbow started getting tired or hurting, my outings weren’t going that great, so I was really frustrated with that and he just always believed in me, always supported me and you wouldn’t know you were talking to Roy Halladay. He, every day, would come in with a smile and just wanted to help every day, no matter what it was," Gowdy shared.
Feelings of depression were also a factor for Gowdy during the difficult recovery process. With bumps along the way, while being forced to watch peers take strides, get healthy or earn promotions, he describes times when he thought of quitting baseball. Gowdy chose to take on hobbies in order to give himself other things to focus on. One of those was learning to play guitar. Taking inspiration from an Eagles concert he attended, Gowdy sought out a teacher to educate him on the ways of the musical axe the very next day. According to the 21-year-old, he's gotten quite good with the instrument.
Class A Lakewood BlueClaws manager Mike Micucci, in his first season with the Phillies organization after previously playing and coaching in the Cubs system, then later managing and working as a field coordinator in the Rangers system and Angels as well as working in the developmental ranks with the Mariners, is quite happy for his talented hurler.
"It's good to see him get out of the (spring training and rehab) complex," said Micucci. "He seems to be in a good place mentally, which generally when guys have spent a year or two with the injury bug, that's the biggest hurdle to get over."
Thus far in three starts this season for the 'Claws, Gowdy, who signed for a reported $3.1 million, sports a 2.79 ERA with no decisions and held the opposition to a .147 batting average against.
In his second outing, an effort at home against Delmarva (Orioles affiliate) on Monday, Gowdy walked the first three batters he faced, but would bounce back to retire the next 12 batters in order, striking out seven of those opponents. He notched four innings of work without allowing a run or a hit.
The success, Gowdy feels, is a welcome bonus. However, he's got a different overall focus this year. His main objective is to avoid any sort of backslide toward the injured list.
"My goal is to stay healthy and have fun and just keep getting better each time out," said Gowdy. "(But aside from) the results, I’d say I feel lucky to be back on the mound and being able to pitch again."
Improving on the physical side, of course, was critical for Gowdy to return to the mound and develop further. But the strides he took with his mental toughness and positive outlook are the areas where he feels he may have improved the most. The late Halladay would be proud.