CHICAGO -- For Scott Baker, returning to a major league mound on Sunday after nearly two years away was more than just a personal accomplishment. It was something his entire family could enjoy.
“Obviously it felt very good,” Baker said. “There’s some emotions there. It’s been a long road and I was happy my family was here to share this moment, because they’re just as much a part of this as I am. The rehab process is hard on everyone, not just the player himself. It’s been a long road, so that definitely plays into it being a special day for me and my family.”
Baker, who has spent the better part of the past two seasons recovering and rehabbing from Tommy John surgery, said his wife, three kids, parents and mother-in-law were all in the stands to watch him make his first appearance since September 24, 2011. They witnessed a pretty strong comeback, as Baker tossed 55 pitches in five shutout innings, giving up just two hits while striking out one and walking one in the Chicago Cubs' 3-1 loss to the Milwaukee Brewers.
After sitting in the mid-80s for most of his minor league rehab starts, Baker was consistently in the upper-80s on Sunday, at one point hitting 91 mph on the Wrigley Field gun.
Earlier in the week, Sveum said the added adrenaline of pitching in front of the ‘second deck’ in the big leagues could help Baker’s fastball. Baker agreed, but also felt it was more than just emotions that helped his sinker tick up on Sunday.
“Physically I’ve been feeling a little better, a little stronger every time out,” Baker said. “I think that’s part of it. You definitely have to harness those emotions, that adrenaline and use it to your favor. I was a little jumpy in the beginning, but for the most part, I was able to do that.”
Baker was pinch hit for in the bottom of the fifth after throwing just 55 pitches. Sveum said his pitch limit was going to be 75, but with the Cubs clinging to a one-run lead, Sveum was hoping to generate more offense and put more runs on the board. Baker seemed fine with the decision.
“If I was in the American League, absolutely,” Baker replied, when asked if he expected to pitch longer. “But the National League’s obviously different with the pitcher’s spot coming up. I would have been happy to go back out there. Physically I felt fine. But it doesn’t do a lot of good to put up too much fuss. I told them I felt fine, but that was the decision that they made.”
Sveum wouldn’t commit to giving Baker another start, saying the staff would talk about it with Baker and see how he felt physically over the next few days.
Baker didn’t hesitate when asked if he wanted to go back out there.
“Absolutely. I feel like that’s the only way it’s going to get better,” Baker said. “I understand that there (are) guys here fighting for jobs next year. As much as they want to pitch, I’m sure the staff and the front office want to get looks at everybody, and I understand that. Of course, I’d like to have been here the whole year and have this not be the situation. But I’m a realist and it is what it is. If it’s an inning here or there or if it’s another start, I’m just going to do the best I can with it.”
The Cubs gave Baker a one-year, $5.5 million contract prior to the season, hoping he’d be ready to pitch by July. However, a setback in his rehab pushed Baker’s first appearance until Sunday. Despite providing the club little value in the 2013 season, one school of thought is that after supporting him through his rehab and evaluating him in September, the team could still bring him back next season on a reduced cost, incentive-laden deal.
Baker said he wasn’t thinking about what his plans for next year are just yet.
“Right now, beggars can’t be choosers,” Baker said. “I’m just very thankful they gave me the opportunity to start. They didn’t have to do that, but they did. (They) kind of left it up to me if I wanted to continue this process. That’s what I told them, I said I feel like I have something to give. The only way to get there is to pitch for the rest of this season, then have a long productive offseason, because I didn’t have that last year. It was just basically a rehab process all the way through. I really feel like having a dedicated amount of rest and recovery will put me back in line to be ready for next year.”