Pomeroy’s Power Arm on Ice Down in the Desert
Comeback Trail: Former Mossyrock Ace Sidelined Again After Flirting With 100 MPH
By Jordan Nailon
His arm was feeling as good as it had in years. Rostered with the Eugene Emeralds in the Chicago Cubs’ organization, his pitches had life, and the radar gun was routinely lighting up with numbers nearing triple digits. A 24-year-old in his fourth season of Minor League Baseball, John Pomeroy was finally feeling like he had found himself on the mound.
Then, like an exploding fastball in on the hands of an overmatched hitter looking for a butterfly changeup, the pain set in all at once.
The injury was diagnosed by the Cubs’ medical staff back in July as a partial tear of his elbow’s all-important ulnar collateral ligament. That news likely put an end to his competitive 2019 campaign. Unfortunately, it isn’t the first time that the 2013 graduate of Mossyrock High School has been sidelined with an elbow injury as Pomeroy also lost his entire 2017 season to a complete tear of his UCL that required Tommy John surgery to repair.
A right-handed pitcher with a blowtorch arm, area baseball fans will remember Pomeroy from his high school days when he scorched opposing offenses with his overpowering stuff. His performances earned him recognition as both All-Area and All-Central 2B League MVP and an All-State invite. Pac-12 fans might remember him from his three seasons with Oregon State University when the Beavers briefly held the No. 1 ranking in the country. However, since being drafted by the Pittsburgh Pirates in 2016, Pomeroy has been toiling away in the relatively anonymity of Minor League Baseball.
Pomeroy spent his first professional season in Bristol, Connecticut, playing rookie ball where he struck out 18 batters in 13 ⅔ innings pitched. He walked too many batters, which led to a few too many runs, but it was a promising start for a 21-year old fresh out of the OSU bullpen. When he reported to spring training the following year, his expectations for himself were sky high.
That’s when his arm gave out for the first time. Following surgery and 14 months of rehab work with the Pirates, Pomeroy was finally able to return to the field the following season, which he spent in West Virginia playing for the Pirates’ single-A teams. The strikeouts kept piling up at an impressive pace that season as his workload increased and his ERA dropped. His 2018 results left him feeling optimistic again as he trained last winter, but when spring training rolled around again, a noted time when hopes are supposed to spring eternal, Pomeroy was again blindsided by the fickle baseball gods. This time he developed elbow tendonitis and was unceremoniously released by the Pirates.
“I wasn’t expecting to be released based on the year that I’d had previously, but it happens. But then I got picked up by the Cubs almost right away,” Pomeroy said.
Catching on with the Cubs so quickly involved a bit of ballpark serendipity. When Pomeroy’s parents made a trip to see Brock Jones pitch last spring for W.F. West, they wound up bumping into a familiar scout named Gabe Sandy. Sandy, formerly with the Marlins and now with the Cubs, inquired about Pomeroy’s status, and when he found out the hurler was without a team, he extended an invitation to visit the Cubs biomechanics lab in Arizona. After a short supervised throwing session during that ensuing visit, the Cubs extended an offer to Pomeroy on the spot.
The former Viking insists that he took the setback in stride and remained confident that he wasn’t facing the end of his career. That doesn’t mean he wasn’t grateful for the opportunity.
“I wasn’t anxious. I wasn’t really nervous. I knew that if I wanted to get another chance I would get another chance because I am a power arm and power arms are a commodity in professional baseball,” Pomeroy said. “That being said, I knew I was going to have to accept whatever opportunity I was offered. I couldn’t just demand to go back to high-A ball.”
With that perspective, Pomeroy started out in the Arizona League with the Cubs in June. Just a few weeks later, after posting a 1.35 ERA and 11 strikeouts in 6.2 innings, Pomeroy was on his way to Euguene to join the Emeralds in the low-A ranks of the comeback trail.
“I kind of got banged around at first but then I started to figure it out,” noted Pomeroy, who was topping out at 99 miles per hour in mid-July.
In 10 ⅓ innings pitched in Eugene, Pomeroy struck out 14 batters. One rough outing in particular was unkind to his ERA, but he figured that adjustment period was just about behind him. And then, right on cue, his elbow started to make noise again. First he noticed his velocity started to drop. Then it spiked back up. Then it dropped again.
“That’s when I figured something might be wrong,” Pomeroy explained. “I was just getting this nagging pain around my ligament, around my graft. But I was just throwing through it because we were short on guys and in pro ball that’s just something that you’re going to have to deal with is a certain amount of pain.”
Then, on a summer day like any other, he went out to play catch in the outfield and after one throw found himself clutching his elbow.
“I thought, ‘OK, something isn’t right there. This is beyond normal soreness,’” Pomeroy recalled.
As a result of the injury, Pomeroy was reassigned back to Arizona where he continues to work with the Cubs medical and training staff to get healthy. His hope is that with 2-3 weeks worth of rest he’ll be able to resume playing catch. If not, he may resort to a plasma shot into the injured area.
Pomeroy is doing his best to take this latest setback in stride.
“It’s incredibly frustrating. But there are positives in everything. I get to refine some aspects of my craft that I wouldn’t get to do mid-season,” he noted. “Maybe I’ll develop another pitch while I’m here. Who knows? But what’s important is that I get to continue to work.”
During his high school days, Pomeroy was known as a flame throwing hurler with a tendency toward erratic control. Since then he has prided himself on honing his repertoire. Even coming out of college from a premier Division I program he was keenly aware that he needed to keep refining his skillset in order to augment his natural heater.
“I would say that my ability to throw strikes was incredibly iffy. It wasn’t a guarantee that I could go in and get a clean inning,” Pomeroy said of his early days in professional baseball. “Now I’m much more consistent, which is the name of the game. I threw more strikes in Eugene than I’ve ever thrown. It was also the first time I’ve ever been hit around.”
Pomeroy says that his time in Corvallis was essential in preparing him to deal with the sometimes cold realities of such a cutthroat career.
“(College) was a true team atmosphere. Pro ball doesn’t really have that same warm feeling of a team atmosphere. They cycle 40 new guys through the draft every year. You see your buddies get released. It’s not warm and fuzzy. It’s a business,” he said. “(Former OSU coaches) Pat Casey and Nate Yeskie, my mentors, were particularly good at developing a man.”
Pomeroy says as a matter of fact that without the lessons he learned at Oregon State he would have hung up his cleats long ago.
“This is a man’s world. This is pro ball. It’s not meant for little boys. You come in here and you’ve got to be ready out of the gate or you can lose your job,” he explained. “If I would have taken the pro ball route out of high school I don’t think I would still be playing. I don’t know if I would have learned the right lessons. I don’t know if I would have the fortitude now that I’ve needed to get through some of my trials in pro ball. The lessons I learned in college ball have been paramount to my success.”
With three years worth of work complete on his sociology major, Pomeroy plans on finishing up his degree whenever his professional pitching career does come to a close. For now though, he’ll continue making his offseason home in Mossyrock and reporting to whatever clubhouse the Cubs, or perhaps some other organization, tells him to during baseball season. Thus far, he says his hometown has continuously been his biggest fan club throughout the various ups and downs of his career.
“The people of Mossyrock have been so supportive. I see people I know or went to school with when I’m back home and they’re always very kind and ask me how things are going. Even better, my parents see people around town when they’re out walking our dog and people ask about me and how I’m doing,” Pomeroy said. “The support from the community from the start to where I am now has been tremendous.”
While he doesn’t believe he will pitch in any games again this year Pomeroy has his sights set resolutely on a fresh start when the grass grows green again next spring.
“The tone (from the Cubs) has been fairly positive. Guys came up to me and said we want to work with you to make sure this doesn’t happen to you again,” Pomeroy noted. “I’d say the best case scenario is there is no setback beyond these two to three weeks, I stay healthy and I show up to spring training ready to rock.”