Back in form, Stetter awaits a chance

Herald file photo
Huntingburg native Mitch Stetter was released by the Texas Rangers organization after Spring Training last year and is currently playing for the Triple-A's Salt Lake Bees.

By BRENDAN PERKINS
Herald Sports Editor

Mitch Stetter doesn’t mask the fact that, at times, his situation frustrates him.

At the same time, Stetter scarcely sounds like a guy who’s been beaten down by his job.

The Huntingburg native is glass-half-full, partly considering his trying 2012 — first being released by the Texas Rangers organization after spring training, then reattaching with the Milwaukee Brewers organization and pitching in the minors before July hip surgery shut down the rest of his summer. Stetter hasn’t pitched in the big leagues in close to two years, so he’s not back where he’d like to be. For the most part, though, he’s content as could be expected.

He’s employed. He’s mostly healthy after last year’s surgery and another recent scare in Spring Training. He’ll take those indicators of stability. Even after learning Saturday he didn’t make the opening-day roster for the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, Stetter had this to offer Monday afternoon after he kissed his family goodbye and completed an interminable drive through the Western desert to his Triple-A assignment with the Salt Lake Bees: “Very happy to be driving to Salt Lake City right now.”

“Obviously I want to make the (big league) team, but I’m very thankful I have a job. There were times in there where I was kind of nervous that they’d get me healthy and then release me,” said Stetter, 32. “It’s just the unpredictability of signing a minor-league contract. You never know what’s going to happen, if you’re going to make a Triple-A team or a big-league team or possibly get released and be looking for a job. With a wife and two kids, that’s kind of a nerve-racking situation.”

Stetter signed a minor-league deal with the Angels in early November, and after completing a long-toss program over the winter, he began throwing bullpen sessions in which he started feeling more like the pitcher he was from 2008 through ’11 when he made 126 short-stint appearances with the Brewers. Then his back stopped cooperating.

While working out at the Angels’ Spring Training facility 10 minutes from his home in Phoenix, his back locked up. Stetter took a week off, but while throwing another bullpen session a few days before the start of Spring Training, the discomfort reappeared. The very first workout during Spring Training, Stetter leaned down to field bunts during a drill, and the pain intensified.

An MRI first indicated a stress fracture. But that was ruled out upon re-evaluation, and Stetter could live with the less severe diagnosis of a bulging disk. For the last few weeks, he’s pitched nearly devoid of pain.

“I get a little stiff and achy, but I’ve been able to go to the field and get loose and throw and feel good while I’m pitching, and that’s really the main thing,” he said. “I haven’t had any (pain) really grab me like it once did.”

Stetter mended in time to make six Spring Training appearances. But essentially in contention with two other pitchers for one bullpen slot, the Angels instead took Mark Lowe, who most recently played for the Rangers and was a late addition to L.A.’s camp after the Dodgers released him.  

Even as he’s amid the transition to Salt Lake City, Stetter said he’s integrated comfortably with the franchise. Where Stetter used to pitch full innings during Spring Training while with the Brewers, the Angels had him pitch to one or two batters in exhibition games, keeping with the situational role he’s preferred his whole career.

The Angels indicated to Stetter they preferred to go with relievers to pitch for full innings. Still, when Stetter learned last weekend he’d be headed to Triple-A instead, he emerged from the meeting with manager Mike Scoiscia and the team’s GM feeling like advancement opportunities are attainable.

“Talking with them, they said I would definitely be up (in the majors) this year and I’m definitely going to help them out, and I’m in their plans,” he said.

Elsewhere, Stetter and his family are scrambling for alternate plans.

His wife, Ali, plans to move back to her native Chicago, where she’ll have family to help with the couple’s expanding family. Their second son Dusty was born in August, and CC turns 2 in July. The Salt Lake Bees’ schedule doesn’t take them anywhere within reach of Chicago, leaving Mitch to rely on emails, phone calls and Face Time to stay in touch.

Stetter wishes there wasn’t so much unpredictability — he and Ali are hesitant for her and the kids to arrange visits to Utah, since Mitch could get called up to L.A. at any given time. If unpredictable means he uncovers a big-league break, though, then unpredictable is just fine.

“It would be nice to sign a major-league contract for a couple years and know you’re going to be in one spot. Some guys have the luxury of that, and there’s a lot of other guys in my situation that have to deal with what we’re dealing with,” Stetter said. “We’ll get through it the best we can and hopefully get back to the big leagues and give my family a better life financially and set things up for later in life.

“Now that the back’s been feeling better, I’ve been throwing, I definitely feel like I’m getting back to where I was before. I’m just excited for things to come this year, and I think (the Angels) are going to give me an opportunity. If put in the right situation as a situational lefty, I know I can succeed at the big-league level. I’m looking forward to the opportunity, and hopefully it comes soon.”

Contact Brendan Perkins at bperkins@dcherald.com.




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