Like many Nationals fans, right-hander Koda Glover keeps replaying the fateful fifth inning in Game 5 of the National League Division Series in his mind. Unlike most Nats fans, however, Glover isn’t focusing on the fact that eventual National League Cy Young winner Max Scherzer failed to throttle the Cubs in a rare relief appearance when his team most needed him to.
Glover thinks about Scherzer being undone by bloops and bleeders, bad luck and a debatable call by a home plate umpire and wonders if things could have been different with him on the mound instead of recovering from a bout with right rotator cuff inflammation.
“With me, it just keeps replaying in my head because I feel like that was my situation,” Glover said Saturday at Nationals Winterfest. “I feel like I’d have been successful in that situation, for sure. Those are the moments I missed out on and I don’t want to miss out on those anymore.”
While the Nationals were failing for a third time to get past the first round of the postseason, Glover was working his way back from the shoulder issue. A season that started with so much promise - with Glover’s electric right arm and confidence that belied his rookie status almost winning him the closer’s role in a three-way spring training competition - unraveled when he was shelved with a lower back injury in mid-June and then the shoulder problem that kept him on the sidelines for the rest of the season.
When Blake Treinen crumbled under the ninth-inning pressure, Glover picked up the pieces, taking over as closer in late April and reeling off eight straight saves, though the Nationals bullpen was largely in disarray. Then, in the space of seven days, he was lit up for five runs in a third of an inning in Oakland and blew a save against the Rangers. Showering before a game the next day, he hurt his back and didn’t appear again for the remainder of 2017. While rehabbing the back injury at the Nationals’ spring complex in West Palm Beach, Fla., the shoulder issue ended any hopes of a comeback.
To say he was frustrated would be an understatement.
“You have no idea,” Glover said. “Very discouraged. When I had my second setback in Florida, I nearly cried because I was that upset. I’d been on the phone with Dusty (Baker) the whole time and I was ready to get back going. You know, it’s a learning experience and I definitely learned from it. I’m ready to go for 2018.”
Among the lessons Glover gleaned from his injury-filled campaign was when to dismiss the discomfort and try to pitch through it and when to give in to the pain and seek help. For pitchers, the latter is a big-picture notion that’s often difficult to fathom in a world that goes pitch by pitch, hitter by hitter.
“I think there’s a big difference between pain and trying to push through something. It’s something that I’ve talked to (Stephen) Strasburg a lot about,” he said. “We’ve kind of had some similar (things) when it comes to that kind of stuff. It’s one of those things where if it gets too bad, you’ve got to shut it down and that’s something that I’ve learned. Dealing with the back last year, I had the trainers working on me before the game, trying to get me going. I think sitting out there and getting up got it too stiff and that’s what ended up causing me problems.”
And then there’s the transition from the minor leagues, where recovery time is sometimes built into a pitcher’s regimen, and the majors, where an effective high-leverage reliever needs to be able to pitch three or four days in a row.
“In the minors they take pretty good care of you,” he said. “If you throw, you’re going to get the next day off and stuff like that. When you get up here, going three or four days in a row, it’s tough. But the big part of that is the rehab. I’m on a really strict arm care program, and it’s really helping me. Making the adjustments and learning my body - I’m learning my body a lot more now. I’m a lot more prepared. Instead of just isolating the hip, which I did last year, and not really worrying about the rest of my body, I’m taking care of everything.”
Among Glover’s challenges was learning to manage injuries - from the bumps and bruises that every pitcher deals with to concerns that might be more pressing. After seeing his 2016 season short-circuited by a hip problem, he entered last season bent on making sure his didn’t suffer a recurrence of the torn hip labrum.
“Last year, coming off the hip injury, I figured: Heal the hip and everything heals. But that wasn’t the case,” he said. “This year, I’m taking care of all of my body, doing the things I need to do to prepare myself for a long year.”
That preparation has already begun in, of all places, Glover’s native Oklahoma, where he’s taken advantage of the sunshine and 65-degree temperatures to throw with members of a local community college team. When the weather turns colder, the workouts will move indoors and he’ll increase the intensity.
By mid-January, Glover expects to be throwing off a mound, a good jumping off point for four weeks later, when the Nats convene spring training in West Palm Beach.
“At first it was a little tough,” Glover said. “I’ve got three (physical therapists) right now in a rotation and one of them told me to just keep throwing and it would get better. And he’s right. ... I’ve thrown four days before I got here and it’s coming out really nice.”
Glover feels like there’s no issue that he’ll be ready when pitchers and catchers report. The bullpen has changed a lot since Glover hurt himself in June, there’s a new manager at the helm and just what role the righty will occupy remains to be seen. But when you throw a fastball at triple digits and treat every hitter you face like he’s your mortal enemy, managers tend to find a way to get you in games.
“I should be 100 percent, knock on wood,” he said. “At first, I was like, ‘I don’t know about this.’ But the more I’ve thrown, the better I’ve felt. And that’s very positive in my book. I’m ready to go.”