It was supposed to be the most important season of Matt Whitehouse's college career at UC Irvine, but in trying to return from a knee injury he overworked himself, causing tendonitis in his rotator cuff and thus washing out his entire junior campaign.
Wisely, the left-hander used his time away from the mound to reset his path, focusing on becoming stronger both physically and mentally.
"I had never been injured like that before, so it was tough being away," said Whitehouse. "It made me have a whole new respect for the game."
Whitehouse worked tirelessly to get back to form, strengthening his shoulder, doing leg work to improve the knee and being there for his teammates in an effort to help out younger players while keeping himself as close to the action as possible.
By the start of the 2013 season, he was itching to get back to work and made 16 appearances (14 starts) for the Anteaters as a red-shirt junior, posting a 5-6 record with more than eight strikeouts per nine innings.
"The injury helped a lot mentally," said Whitehouse. "It made me stronger and made me work the right way."
He also worked hard toward obtaining a degree in Sociology (with a minor in Education), and all of that work paid off on Draft day when the Cleveland Indians made him their 19th-round selection (No. 561 overall).
"It was a bit stressful sitting and watching with family," said Whitehouse. "I went and hung out with some buddies who were home from school. Overall, it was a great experience and an exciting moment in my life."
The perseverance and diligence that pushed him through his injured season has carried over to pro ball, and with the help Scrappers' pitching coach Scott Erickson, he has made a small tweak in his delivery that is already paying dividends.
"[Erickson] pointed out that I was leaving a drag mark on my follow-through," said Whitehouse. "It was like an anchor that slows the lower half. Now we're not using a drag, and I'm able to explode through the pitch with my hips.
"He's been an unbelievable teacher," Whitehouse added of the 1991 American League All-Star.
With a renewed outlook on spotting his fastball instead of trying to power it by, Whitehouse has been able to work well with his cutter while developing an off-speed offering that he didn't use much in the past.
The results through his first 17 innings as a professional -- 0.53 ERA, 0.65 WHIP, .161 opponent batting average, 14/1 strikeout-to-walk ratio -- stand as solid evidence that he is physically capable.
And his mental toughness has been put to the test as well during the Scrappers' recent run of 12 straight losses, a franchise record.
"I almost forgot what winning felt like," Whitehouse joked. "It was bad. Halfway through, we were trying to change things up -- guys were lighting bats on fire in the parking lot; we switched uniforms. None of it really worked."
The Scrappers were able to snap their slide July 15 against Vermont, and the final box score showed the winning pitcher was Whitehouse.
It was the first "W" of his young career.
Appel needs more cities: The Mark Appel era in the New York-Penn League was short-lived as the Astros prospect was promoted to the Class A Quad Cities River Bandits, where he pitched four scoreless innings against Dayton on Sunday. The top overall pick in June's Draft made his pro debut with Tri-City on July 5 and appeared in two games before moving on. Appel logged five innings with the ValleyCats, allowing two runs on six hits while striking out six.
The old 1-3 punch: The State College duo of Jimmy Bosco and Bruce Caldwell have accounted for 42 of the Spikes' 150 runs this season, having both scored a league-high 21 times each for the Cardinals affiliate. Bosco, who has served as leadoff hitter in 24 of the team's 26 games, is batting .320 and has racked up 54 total bases. Caldwell, the No. 3 hitter in the order, has a .423 on-base percentage with 16 walks in 22 games. Benefitting the most from their efforts is David Washington, who has a league-high 23 RBIs while alternating between clean-up and the five-hole.
One run fun: The Lowell Spinners are learning what it means to play in the close games, having 12 contests under their belt determined by one run. They have been lucky enough to pull out nine of those 12, including three 1-0 shutouts. Last year's Spinners squad played in 28 one-run games, dropping 15 of them.