Armstrong's season derailed by injury, but he's still on right track
Professional baseball bears witness to an inevitable path of highs and lows. Players fall victim to the unsympathetic elements of the game beyond their control. Muscles pull, hitting slumps smite, and pitches sometimes hang a little too high. The potential obstacles and setbacks are immeasurable, but mental fortitude and relentless work ethic are the groundwork for resurrection.
Enter Shawn Armstrong.
The 22-year-old right-hander began the season with the double-A Akron Aeros before an injury sidelined him for 11 weeks. The reliever suffered a dislocated fourth metacarpal after a game in late April, which sent him back to Arizona to rehab the injury. No one wants to experience a setback, but Armstrong was well-aware of the work necessary to make a recovery.
“I think I got the chance to work on a lot of things, but it also put a little damper on the season since I didn’t throw as many innings as I should have, didn’t make as many appearances, but that’s what winter ball and the fall’s for, so that’s what my plans are going to be now,” Armstrong said.
The process was difficult to endure as it required Armstrong to wait on a diagnosis. Sitting in such a waiting room provides too much opportunity to dread all the potential outcomes.
“It was very discouraging,” Armstrong recalled. “I didn’t know how bad it was. I didn’t know what the situation was and I had to sit around and think about it for four days until I finally saw the doctor.”
From there, Armstrong had to wait another week for the swelling in his hand to diminish before he learned his diagnosis. Though he was relieved he didn’t need surgery, the setback still cut like a scalpel.
“The downfall was going to Arizona,” he said. “You never want to go back to where you started in spring training but it was a good opportunity to go out there and think about things and get my body in shape and get ready for the rest of the season.”
The rest of the season came in mid-July as Armstrong returned to the Aeros after a successful rehab route. He said the process was simple; he focused on range and motion and has been pain-free since his return. The injury didn’t necessarily alter Armstrong’s mindset, but it did present a new challenge for him as he had to catch up to his peers.
“I think coming back here in mid-July when everybody else was in midseason form and me being basically fresh out of spring training, it was tough in that part because these guys had been playing the entire year and I’m coming out here seeing guys who have their timing down and I’m working on mechanics,” he explained. “Mentally, I wasn’t all the way there because I was pressing a little bit but I wouldn’t say it changed anything.”
One thing that did change is the results that Armstrong saw. Last season, he crafted a stellar year as he advanced from low-A Lake County to double-A Akron by July. He posted a collective 1.60 ERA among the three levels as he fanned a career-high 78 batters.
This season, Armstrong has fallen victim to the roller coaster that looms in every player’s path. He presently posts a 4.50 ERA and .351 BABIP with Akron, but he’s refused to let some unfavorable stats impede his attitude.
“Whenever the ball leaves your hand, there’s nothing else you can really do to control it,” Armstrong noted. “That’s the biggest part of this game. That’s part of failure and you have to learn to cope with that and understand how to take care of it. You fail one day and you come out the next day and you get better.”
Armstrong mentioned another reliever in the Cleveland Indians’ organization who has seen similar experiences – Chris Perez.
“He’ll fail one day and he’ll come out the next and deal,” Armstrong pointed out.
Recently, Armstrong has rebounded well as he hasn’t allowed a run over his last four outings. When I spoke with him during the offseason, he mentioned he was working on his curveball, which has him feeling confident now.
“It’s coming very well,” he said. “Pitch-wise, everything feels good and everything feels a lot better than it was last year. There’s just a couple mechanics I need to tweak and fix and get a little tighter so I can be more consistent in the strike zone.”
Such mechanical fixes are simple, such as avoiding the tendency to lead with the foot. Though the changes in mechanics were quick and easy, some of the lessons Armstrong learned were not. The biggest lesson he’s said he’s learned is failure.
“I didn’t really experience much of it last year and this year it happened, and I’ve just got to stay mellow-headed and not really worry about anything,” he said.
Armstrong knows that each day brings the unexpected, and with the unexpected come the ups and downs. The past season has presented him with a plethora of challenges and lessons that reminded him of the mindset necessary to prevail. Though he faced some highs and lows, he converted his misfortunes into wisdom.
“Failure’s going to happen, it’s the people that deal with it the right way that make it to the big leagues,” Armstrong noted. “I’ve had a couple situations where I let it get to me and I carried it with me a couple days and it’s going to go to your next outing.”
With the Aeros’ season coming to a close, Armstrong isn’t sure where his next outing will be. He’ll head to Puerto Rico or Venezuela in the offseason with plans to continue his hard work while staying in shape. His plans are relatively simple, as he merely wants to be more consistent and locate his pitches.
Though he didn’t pitch a full season, Shawn Armstrong has made strides on the field. It’s often said that life’s toughest challenges stimulate the most important lessons, and Armstrong has learned the intangibles that can only be grasped during times of trial. His season may have been derailed by injury, but his attitude has him on the right track.
Stephanie is a crime and general assignment reporter for The Morning Journal in Lorain, Ohio. She’s an alumna of Cleveland State University with a degree in Journalism and Promotional Communication. You can follow her on Twitter @7thInningSteph.