The Tuesday drive from Mac Sceroler’s home in Louisiana to Chattanooga, Tenn., didn’t show it on any map, but he traveled down a steep hill to get there. The peak of it actually back in Baltimore.
The descent from the majors to Double-A baseball is common with Rule 5 selections. Sceroler sensed that it might be coming. Braced for it and understanding of the reasons.
Two months spent on the injured list and rehabbing his right shoulder tore through whatever odds of success existed with Sceroler and the likelihood that the Orioles would carry two Rule 5 pitchers through the entire season. Other circumstances piled on top. There was no longer room for him.
The Orioles designated Sceroler for assignment on June 22. He cleared waivers and was offered back to the Reds, who decided to continue his development with the Chattanooga Lookouts.
A level above where he pitched in 2019. A world away from Camden Yards.
The shoulder tendinitis was a huge setback and Sceroler couldn’t build on an impressive April 5 debut against the Yankees, when he struck out four batters in 2 2/3 scoreless and hitless innings.
“It was, it was,” Sceroler said in a phone conversation this week. “But looking back, I’m really thankful for the opportunity and just this journey that I’ve been on. This whole 2021, looking back I really feel like I can take everything I learned and all the failure that I went through up in the big leagues and kind of apply that to my game back here in the minor leagues and develop.
“Now that I’ve been in the big leagues I know what it takes to pitch there and I know what I need to improve on. So overall just super thankful for this whole entire situation with the Orioles.”
The Orioles like Sceroler’s arm and pitch mix and makeup. But they no longer could ignore or compensate for a 14.09 ERA and 2.870 WHIP accumulated over five games and 7 2/3 innings. Carrying an extra pitcher in the bullpen wasn’t a salve, and removing him enabled the club to bring up an extra bench player during their road trip.
“Looking back, I would have, obviously, liked to have performed better and still be up there, but you’ve just kind of got to control whatever you can control,” he said. “I really feel like that I learned a lot and I learned what it takes to be a consistent big leaguer. Now I just have to learn from that and become a better pitcher. Work my tail off to get back up there.
“The analytical side actually is really interesting. The Orioles are doing a good job with the front office and starting to get players more involved in all the individual analytical stuff that I’ve never really been a part of, so it’s super interesting to learn stuff like that that I didn’t really know before as a pitcher. It’s really cool stuff.”
Conspiracy theories relating to the Orioles stashing Sceroler on the injured list as if inventing an excuse to remove him from the active roster for a while are blown up by the pitcher himself.
“The injury kind of sucked,” he said with a chuckle. “I had my good debut, but dating back to the end of spring training, my shoulder started barking at me and giving me some problems, but I was trying to make the team, so I was just pushing through it, you know? And looking back, I probably should have said something, which would have prevented me from going on the IL for eight weeks. But at that time I was just trying to compete my tail off and earn that roster spot.
“I ended up making the team and my shoulder kept hurting me, finally to a point to where I had to say something. I feel like that really set me back a little bit. But it’s no excuse. I’m not trying to make excuses or anything.”
A cortisone injection required a lengthy shutdown period and build-up after only two appearances in April. Sceroler, the nephew of former Orioles pitcher Ben McDonald, allowed six runs in two innings in his return game, with the Mets hitting three home runs at Camden Yards. More than a week passed before Sceroler got the call again, and the three runs he allowed to the Indians in the eighth inning included Yu Chang’s two-run shot.
The final attempt to stay in the majors occurred against the Astros on June 21, when they scored three unearned runs in the eighth on two hits, two walks and shortstop Pat Valaika’s error. Two strikeouts after the miscue could have gotten him in the dugout unscathed in mop-up duty.
The conversation with manager Brandon Hyde came the following day, news that he was designated for assignment while the Orioles selected knuckleballer Mickey Jannis’ contract from Triple-A Norfolk. Jannis suffered the same fate later, cleared waivers and was outrighted.
“Obviously, I knew that this was always an option,” Sceroler said. “It pretty much all depended on how I performed, and I knew going into it that I would need to perform for them to keep me for the whole year, which is really hard to do for any organization wanting to keep a Rule 5 pick. But being that we had two of us and Tyler Wells was really pitching very well, I’ve got to give credit to him.
“With him pitching the way he was and me pitching the way I was, I wasn’t completely blindsided by it, but I would have liked to have seen if I could have worked my way around some stuff. I feel like it just takes consistent innings, and I wasn’t getting that up there. But it’s hard to do because I had no role there, so it’s really hard to get innings when you don’t really have a role, you’re not really pitching that well.”
Just as Sceroler clarifies that he isn’t offering excuses, he’s also careful to explain that he doesn’t blame the Orioles for the way they handled him, doubling back on the subject during our conversation. He understood the dilemma, with the injury and slow return intensifying the careful usage typical of a Rule 5 selection. Not to mention, and he didn’t, how a rotation stringing together abbreviated starts placed more of a burden on the bullpen and made it much harder to protect him. And Hyde was in a constant fix trying to maneuver around slumping relievers and get through nine innings.
“It’s really just how everything unfolded, me missing eight weeks and rehabbing, people started to develop their roles, and a lot of our guys are one-inning guys. Stuff like that,” Sceroler said.
“I just didn’t pitch myself into a role, so it is what it is.”