Parker Bridwell was dealing.
The ballpark was empty, but still.
In a bullpen session last June, he was making the glove pop and he had one of those sessions that made even the low-key Texas pitcher boast even a tiny bit. He told a teammate that that bullpen outing was as good as he’s felt in preparing for a Major League start in the last five years. He fell asleep that night motivated as ever to take the mound and prove to the Los Angeles Angels that he was back on track from his breakout 2017 rookie campaign.
When Bridwell woke the next morning, something was off. He couldn’t straight his arm. His right elbow was swollen. That’s when his mind wouldn’t stop racing. Any sudden elbow issue takes a ballplayer’s mind to the worst-case scenario. In all his years playing baseball, he’d never had a single arm issue. He’d never missed a start in all his years either.
“When you see swelling,” he said, reminiscing, “you know there’s something.”
Bridwell fought as hard as he could to ignore the possibilities of Tommy John surgery, so after visits to specialists revealed that he needed bone spurs removed from his pitching elbow, he was beyond relieved. He had surgery on June 17 of last year, which set him down this unfamiliar trek back toward the majors.
In 2017, Bridwell was a huge surprise for the Angels, going 10-3, posting a 3.64 ERA over 20 starts after the Angels picked him up from the Baltimore Orioles, the team that originally drafted him back in 2010. As impressive as his rookie year was, his sophomore season was as trying. His ERA ballooned and his elbow needed surgery, and all of a sudden a dark horse candidate for the Angels’ rotation was flung back to square one.
“The hope is you can get back to where you were before,” Bridwell said. “I think that was one of the hardest parts as well that knowing I’d proven myself more or less in Major League Baseball and the next season comes around and I go down with that [injury]. It was more of a blessing that it was what it was and not Tommy John, because I could just now be getting healthy enough to rehab.”
Back with the Salt Lake Bees in 2019, Bridwell is now 4-3 with a 9.30 ERA. He’s started four games and appeared in 13. He has 48 strikeouts, but has given up 10 home runs in his 13 appearances. Bees pitching coach Pat Rice said Bridwell is on his way back to pitching with the confidence he had in 2017. Despite his high ERA, Rice says he won’t be surprised the day he shows up to the ballpark to hear the Angels have summoned Bridwell back to the show.
“He’s throwing harder probably than he’s ever thrown just from a velocity standpoint — with all of his pitches,” Rice said. “So I think that hurdle’s been cleared. When a pitcher gets an injury, it’s an emotional thing as much as a physical one. You have to get over that. He’s really close.”
Like so many, Bridwell’s had a taste of major success at the Major League level. And with the injury scare behind him and his velocity up, he knows what it’ll take to get back.
“I still have my same stuff. It never affected any of my pitches,” he said. “It’s just a matter of fact of being consistent and putting together multiple outings of good stuff, showing them that you can be reliable.”