For Orioles pitching prospect Branden Kline, the long road back from Tommy John surgery was even longer than expected.
Kline’s last game for an O’s affiliate was with Double-A Bowie on May 20, 2015. He left a start at Trenton after just 1 2/3 innings. It later led to surgery on Oct. 8, 2015. When Kline reported to spring training in 2017, he expected to pitch a full and healthy season on the farm.
But that didn’t happen. He had two setbacks, both very similar. He had two additional procedures, one in March and another last September, to remove tissue lodged in a joint.
It’s been a long road back for the right-hander. So this spring it has been great for him to be healthy and throwing well. Talk about a comeback. It has been almost three years since he took the mound in a minor league game.
“I haven’t had a single issue with it since (the two 2017 procedures). Feeling good ever since,” Kline said recently at the Buck O’Neil Baseball Complex at Twin Lakes Park.
Kline is from Frederick and is a 2009 graduate of Thomas Johnson High School. He went to college at the University of Virginia and was the Orioles’ second-round pick in 2012.
Kline was the opening day starter in his hometown for Single-A Frederick in 2014 and went 8-6 with a 3.84 ERA for the Keys that season. He was 3-3 with an ERA of 3.66 for Bowie the next season until being shut down after eight starts, the last of which was that game in Trenton. Over the years, Kline has been ranked four times among the O’s top 30 prospects by Baseball America.
You’ve got to give the 26-year-old Kline credit for hanging in there so well during all the rehab he has endured since May 2015.
“I give a lot of that credit to my wife, Sarah,” Kline said. “Through the highs and lows, she has always been there for me and it is always nice to be able to lean on her. There were some days you weren’t feeling the best mentally and she would pick me up. Then we had our first child (Adalyn) in June. A few weeks later, they came down to Florida. I went from a baseball player to a dad. Seeing her, you don’t think about anything else but that.”
All the sudden, all the hard rehab work, setbacks and frustration didn’t seem so difficult to deal with.
“Once I left the field, it was da-da time, and whether I had a good day or bad day, I could walk through the door and get the biggest smile,” he said.
This spring training has been a very normal one for Kline and that is just great with him.
“I’ve been good to go since I got here,” he said. “Been on a normal throwing routine. The best thing is there are no longer any issues, physical or mentally. It is me knowing everything is fixed and right and now I can go out and compete and get better.”
Kline was even called over to join the big league team from minors camp a couple of times.
He could head north soon to Double-A Bowie in a bullpen role, although the minor league rosters have not yet been released. Kline doesn’t care which team he winds up with.
“Just want to break with a team, any team. I’ve been in Florida for two and half years. So getting out of Florida will be just fine with me,” he said.
Kline said he is not necessary a different pitcher now. He still throws two- and four-seam fastballs and a slider, and a developing curveball has been added to the mix. He plans to attack hitters the way he once did.
He’s learned a few things during all the rehab the last two seasons.
“The biggest thing I learned is patience,” he said. “The last two and a half years of ramping up and then having to go back down again and ramping up and going back down again has shown me patience. There are probably times when players might get in the habit of rushing through things and forcing things to happen. Well, this rehab process has taught me you can’t force things to happen.
“It applies to the game. You have to think about runners on base, think about what the hitter is trying to do, where your defense is playing, what pitches are working for you that day. It all takes patience. That is what I’ve learned throughout this entire process.”
Back in 2015, scouts could look at a then-healthy Kline and project a pretty good chance that he would one day pitch in the majors. Does Kline still feel that way, after all the rehab and his long road back?
“Yes, 100 percent,” he said. “I feel I am pretty close to the 2015 version of myself. My confidence has never wavered. Physically, I took a hiatus. But now I feel strong, ready to compete and ready to show I can still get to the big leagues.”