It was a long time coming for Cleveland Indians right-handed starting pitching prospect Joe Gardner.
After being chosen by the Indians in the 3rd round of the draft last year out of UC Santa Barbara, Gardner, 22, signed with the Indians quickly and was expected to make his professional debut with short-season Single-A Mahoning Valley when their season started up in mid-June. Unfortunately, an oblique injury suffered in his last start at UC Santa Barbara in May was still bothering him and those plans were nixed as he instead began his pro career on a rehab assignment at the Indians new Player Development Complex in Goodyear, AZ.
"I don't know how it happened," said Gardner
in an interview at Classic Park
in Eastlake, OH
earlier this week. "It was my last start and it was tightening up so we shut it down. The Indians knew about it before they drafted me. I thought I was going to be back real soon and play for Mahoning but it didn't pan out that way."
As time went on over the course of the summer the oblique issue continued to linger and Gardner
was never healthy enough to get to Mahoning Valley
as initially hoped. He was finally healthy and cleared to pitch in the Fall Instructional League and that is where he opened up some eyes as he showed what made him such an intriguing pickup for the Indians in the 3rd round. He only pitched in one game, but he was dominating in going four shutout innings without allowing a hit or walk and piling up seven strikeouts.
Gardner used that performance in Instructional League as a springboard into his 2010 season where he came into spring training completely healthy, had a good camp (1.29 ERA, 14 IP, 12 H, 4 BB, 14 K), and was assigned to Low-A Lake County to start the 2010 season. Over the course of the first few weeks of the season he has officially started his pro career and earned his first win.
"It feels good to get back out there and be back on the hill and do what I do," said Gardner
. "I missed it for awhile and I am starting off pretty good too."
In three starts for Lake County
this season Gardner
is 1-0 with a 3.86 ERA, though the ERA is deceiving as he has been flat out dominating in all three starts. Midwest League hitters are only hitting .140 against him, he has 26 strikeouts in 14.0 innings pitched (16.7 K/9), and has a ridiculous 15.00 GO/AO ratio. His early season success is a byproduct of his excellent sinker which is just eating up hitters. The sinker is hard and heavy, often coming in at 91-94 MPH, and no one has been able to lift the ball off him. It's also a testament to how well he has pitched in keeping the ball down in the zone and not leaving his sinker up or his secondary stuff (slider, changeup) out over the plate.
"I'm just throwing fastballs until someone can hit it," said Gardner
. "Especially down here I can command the fastball pretty well and not worry too much about being hit and hammered around the ballpark. I think as I keep going up I will continue to use the fastball to get ahead and keep using it as a ground ball pitch."
In three starts Gardner
has really only made one bad pitch. Unfortunately, he paid dearly for it as that one mistake cost him four runs via a grand slam home run. The home run is one of only two balls to be hit in the air against him so far this season, which is an astonishing number over the course of three starts and 14.0 innings.
"That was a big time mistake on a changeup there,