CLEARWATER, Fla. – It was the same thing day after day. Mike Stutes would rehab for hours, then he’d turn on the television and watch the Phillies play without him. It wasn’t easy. It was the opposite of easy, actually. It wore on him.
“That’s something you wouldn’t wish on anyone,” Stutes said on Wednesday in the clubhouse at Bright House Field. “It’s pretty frustrating sitting down here the whole summer and just watching the games every night on TV. After a while, it gets pretty tough. You want to be out there and you’re not able to be. It gets to you.”
The Phillies reliever had a solid rookie campaign in 2011. The righthander threw in 57 games that season. He went 6-2 with a 3.63 ERA, 8.4 K/9, 4.1 BB/9 and 1.0 HR/9 over 62 innings. Entering Spring Training a year ago, Stutes expected to build on that performance.
It didn’t happen. Last season, he pitched a total of 5 2/3 innings. His last appearance on the mound was April 21. Then the Phillies shut him down. Stutes was having issues with his throwing shoulder. He heard a clicking noise - the equivalent of an air raid siren for pitchers. By June, he was forced to have surgery that ended his year.
Stutes said the procedure “cleaned out” his shoulder. He insisted it wasn’t a rotator cuff issue, and that “nothing was cut.” But, the reliever also admitted that the injury had lingered for a while. The clicking noise that prompted the surgery? In retrospect, he thinks it started back in 2011.
“After coming out of surgery and starting my rehab, it was somewhat apparent that I had something going on for a while,” Stutes said. “Now that I felt the difference – a free range of motion and nothing is catching now – I realized that something was probably going on for a little while.”
Following the procedure, Stutes reported to Clearwater, where he did exercises to strengthen his shoulder each afternoon for two hours. During the offseason, he split his time between Northern California and Portland, where he played catch and threw every day. He said if there’s a positive to what he went through, it’s that he feels “much, much stronger in my shoulder and back.”
Stutes is not a large man. He’s listed at 6-foot-1, 185 pounds, but both of those figures seem generous when you stand next to him. Despite his build and shoulder issue, the 26-year-old is convinced his body will hold up over the course of the often-grueling 162 game season.
Confidence aside, Stutes must once again prove himself worthy of being on the roster. A year ago, he was all but assured of making the team. This season, his situation is far less certain. The bullpen is more crowded, and there are fewer jobs to go around.
There figures to be significant competition among the relievers. Along with Stutes, Jeremy Horst, Phillippe Aumont, Jake Diekman, Michael Schwimer, Justin De Fratus, B.J. Rosenberg, Raul Valdes, Joe Savery and some others appear to be fighting for three bullpens spots. While Stutes said he can throw without limitations, he also acknowledged that he isn’t sure where he is in terms of velocity or command.
“I’m not really sure,” Stutes said. “I haven’t had a radar gun on me or anything like that. For feel, I would think so. I haven’t had any pain. It looks like [the ball] is coming out pretty good. Until you see the first batter’s reaction, it’s really tough to tell. Even if it is coming out hard, if they’re not reacting the same way, it doesn’t really matter.”