As frustrating as a second season all but lost to injury might be for right-hander Cody Sedlock, imagine the alternative: earlier this year, as he sat in a surgeon’s office trying to find the cause of the shoulder soreness that shut him down this year, he was told his options would be to have his top rib removed or give up pitching all together.
Sedlock, 23, avoided the surgical procedure to repair the relatively new pitching injury known as thoracic outlet syndrome, which is caused by compression of veins or nerves from the neck to below the shoulder, as the symptoms proved inconclusive.
So he’s currently rehabilitating with Short-A Aberdeen, and the Orioles 2016 first-round draft pick is hoping the process that brought him back from a strained flexor mass in his elbow area in 2017 and now this shoulder problem is enough to put him back on track to meet the high expectations that came with his selection.
“Two years of struggles and being at the top of the top and the lowest lows, that’s not going to take away who I am as a pitcher,” Sedlock said. “I’ve dealt with struggles in the past, and adversity and everything. If anyone can come back and become even a better pitcher, I know that there’s a silver lining in all of this where I’m learning how to pitch.
“And once the velocity comes back and the sharpness comes back, and my sinker and my off-speed and everything like that, I’m going to know how to pitch with that, instead of just being kind of a thrower. … Once everything works out and I start trusting my arm more and getting my mechanics right and be a pitcher and have fun playing baseball again, I think it’ll be great.”
Sedlock comes at that approach from a place few pitchers would want to be. His elbow soreness last year put him out for over a month, and he ended the year with a 5.90 ERA in 20 starts for High-A Frederick. He looked forward to regaining his health and mechanics this spring when the shoulder problem grew more serious.
It didn’t hurt then, he said, but his “arm did feel kind of almost dead.” The soreness intensified once he got back to Frederick, and after three starts, he went back on the disabled list. An MRI revealed only inflammation and nothing structural, so they called it an impingement, gave him a platelet-rich plasma injection and set him on a standard rehab path.
Once he got into his throwing program, however, he said he noticed a recurring blister on his finger that came about some last year, too.
“I thought it was kind of weird, and also, my index finger would kind of go completely cold and white after I would pitch,” he said.
An orthopedist referred him to a vascular surgeon, and that’s when the surgical rib removal ultimatum came — that’s the surgical solution, which creates more room for those veins and arteries to flow in the armpit area.
“I’m like, ‘Oh wow, that’s kind of crazy to throw on someone right away,’ ” Sedlock said, so they saw a specialist instead. Dr. Robert Thompson, who works out of St. Louis, performed surgery to relieve thoracic outlet syndrome on then-New York Mets star Matt Harvey and several other major leaguers, and examined Sedlock.
“He said there was a pinch-off in my thoracic outlet, and that he isn’t sure that surgery would be the best option for that right away, to jump right into it, just because my symptoms are just a little … they’re not completely conclusive with thoracic outlet,” Sedlock said. “He said that it looks like that’s what it is, so he gave our athletic trainers a bunch of manual therapy and different stretches and different protocols for me to do.”
Most of the symptoms, he said, are gone. He called it a “scary, crazy process,” but believes it’s behind him.
“My arm is feeling better, and hopefully, it stays that way,” Sedlock said.
The rehab protocol called for two-inning stints every four days in the Gulf Coast League, then eventually got him back on a starter’s schedule. He pitched well in five outings there before arriving in Aberdeen for Thursday’s start, a three-inning outing at a place where he last pitched as a freshly minted top pick two summers ago.
The day began ignominiously, with a six-pitch walk and his fastball sitting 90-91 mph — an improvement from earlier this season when he was down in the mid-80s, but not at the 92-95 mph range he lived in the summer he was drafted. A bloop single and the first of two balks he’d commit that night, a symptom of something new he was trying to do with his hands in his delivery, brought in a run in the first. A second run scored in the third inning after a leadoff single, another balk and a pair of deep fly balls. He was through after 42 pitches and three innings.
“Once I dialed in a little bit, I don’t think I felt as good as I did down in the GCL at the tail end of my rehab outing, but I battled, and a lot of the pitches I threw were exactly the way I wanted to execute them,” Sedlock said.
Other than the fastball velocity, which settled in around 89-90 mph as the game progressed, not much has changed with Sedlock since the Orioles selected him 27th overall in 2016 out of Illinois. His delivery still features a pronounced stab behind his back and is a bit on the violent side. He still features three potential plus secondary pitches, including a slider that he got through well Thursday, plus a curveball and a changeup.
He said the crispness of all those pitches, plus his fastball, will come back as he gets a better grasp on working in his current state. Sedlock said there’s one more rehab outing remaining at Aberdeen, likely Wednesday, before he returns to normal work.
“I’m still learning how to work with it and everything, and so far, so good,” Sedlock said. “Hopefully my recovery time keeps shortening, and I can just get back to throwing without the pain in the back of my mind of throwing. That’s where I think I’ve dug myself into a little bit of a hole with that.”