With injury setbacks behind him, Bryan Mitchell enters 2017 with confident optimism
Injuries are an unfortunate and inevitable part of life for Major League baseball players, but for one Yankees pitcher, the injury bug has been particularly cruel.
Bryan Mitchell, the 25-year-old Yankees swing-man entering his fourth MLB season this year, has had to come back from a pair of freak injuries in the last two years, but they've done nothing to dull his confidence or determination to get back to the rotation.
On August 17, 2015, Mitchell was helped off the field after taking a 103 mph line drive to the face in a game against the Minnesota Twins, which resulted in a nasal fracture for the 6-foot-3 right-hander. Despite the bloody, scary scene, Mitchell returned that season to make 10 more appearances in relief for the Yankees, and found a way to put the trauma behind him.
Then, on March 31, 2016, just one day after learning he'd made the Yankees' 25-man roster, Mitchell was dealt another setback after suffering a Grade 3 turf toe and fractured bone in his foot while running to cover first base in a spring start. Mitchell went on to miss nearly the entire regular season, but once again returned to make five starts for the Yankees with two stellar performances in his last two outings.
"[It's] frustrating more than anything, the breaks between everything," Mitchell said early in spring training. "I haven't had consistent work over the past couple of years. I haven't thrown as many innings as I'd like to get in. I'd say that's the biggest frustration for me is the lack of innings over the last couple years."
For ballplayers, especially pitchers, a consistent routine is crucial. The gradual, diligent workload pitchers build up over the course of spring training helps them enter the regular season with all systems go. Last spring, prior to his foot injury, Mitchell was pitching as well as he ever had.
"I felt like that was the best I've pitched in a few years," Mitchell recalled. "When I got hurt, honestly I knew I was hurt but I didn't think it was that bad. When I got the news that I was going to be out at least four months, that was pretty tough... It kind of took a while after the injury last year to really get the strength in my legs back, but I'm back to where I was last spring training at this point."
After two straight years of dealing with horrific injury luck, Mitchell is understandably eager to get back out on the mound, but he realizes that injuries - no matter how unfair they seem - can happen to anyone.
"It's part of the game. You can't let it get you down. You just have to keep rolling with it, and I feel good now so that's really all that matters," said Mitchell.
When asked if he had any lingering apprehension resulting from the line drive shot to his face in 2015, Mitchell admitted that the memory "may cross my mind," but once he's back on the field, those thoughts dissipate.
Now, with the start of the season closer than ever, Mitchell will have to earn his way back into the Yankees rotation. Luis Severino's strong spring helped him earn the fourth spot in the pecking order, but no one has locked down the final place on the starting staff just yet.
Mitchell is one of the names up for consideration for the job, and he's hopeful he can turn the positive momentum from his five late-season starts in 2016 into a permanent role in the Bronx.
"I set a goal for myself to get back [on the field] last year, and I think just being able to get back and pitch in a major league game last season was a pretty big accomplishment," Mitchell said. "I'm just going to build off of that and take everything that I got out of those five starts."
In spite of his bad injury luck over the years, Mitchell remains as focused, motivated and intense as ever. His chief goal for 2017 is to earn his spot back in the Yankees rotation, and it's a goal that's well within his reach.
"This is me, this is my game," Mitchell said. "I'm trying to be the best pitcher I can be and stay in this league as long as I can."