BOSTON — The final line looks less impressive than he left it, five earned runs on his ledger, three coming after Cody Sedlock departed the game. But the mere fact that there was an ERA to be had, three strikeouts to be amassed, family in attendance for this outing in a big league game — that alone was enough to cherish.
Sedlock — long ago a first-round Draft pick whose career has been beset by injury, struggles and disappointment — made his long, long-awaited debut in Sunday’s 12-2 loss to the Red Sox in front of 35,715 at Fenway Park. The nerves six years in the making began flowing when he was told to start warming in the bullpen. But they hit for good when he made the trot to the mound.
“I mean, it had to have been a sellout crowd,” Sedlock marveled.
It was often hard for Sedlock to envision what unfolded on Sunday.
The Orioles, under their previous leadership regime, made him their top Draft pick in 2016. Come the start of ’17, Sedlock was their No. 2 prospect as ranked by MLB Pipeline, with a successful half-season cameo at then-Low-A Aberdeen after a great junior year with Illinois.
Elbow and forearm injuries sidetracked Sedlock in 2017. Come the start of ’18, he had fallen to the club’s No. 12 prospect, and following a bout with thoracic outlet syndrome that year that limited him to just 13 appearances, he fell off the map.
“It just goes back to all those times in 2017, ’18 where I didn’t know if I was going to keep playing,” Sedlock said on Saturday, his first day in the big league clubhouse. “I knew that I could get to this point. I’m so grateful to be at this point. I’m very, very proud of everything. It’s a surreal moment.”
Add on the expectations that come with a top Draft pick. When healthy, Sedlock amassed a 4.48 ERA in 96 Minor League appearances (74 starts) before the Orioles elevated him from Triple-A Norfolk to the taxi squad in Boston, and ultimately the active roster. A lack of success became weighing. A summer spent in a La Quinta Inn that 2018 season with his now-wife Chloe felt like a possible breaking point.
“It’s a little bit more pressure sometimes, it feels like,” Ryan Mountcastle, another first-round pick, said this week. “You’re a first-round pick for a reason, you got talent. … Shows you what kind of guy he is to be able to stick with it.”
That’s what made Sunday as gratifying as it was. And it was a family affair — for a triage of reasons.
The first and most obvious was the starting lineup-sized crew Sedlock had on hand. When he and Chloe heard the news he would be added to the taxi squad, they took no chances. They packed up themselves and their son Nash in Norfolk, checking their phones to see if the storms that hit the mid-Atlantic would impact flight times. Balanced around that, phone calls went out, telling seven more family members — Sedlock’s father, sister and brother-in-law and their four kids — to get to Boston.
Sedlock, Chloe and Nash ended up landing in Boston around 11 p.m. on Friday night. Teammates and their significant others volunteered to watch and walk their dog, Tank, back in Norfolk.
Upon arrival — sandwiched around a lost car seat for Nash — Austin Hays and his wife, Samantha, sent the Sedlocks a bottle of wine along with a handwritten note welcoming them to the big leagues.
It had been five years since Hays and Sedlock last played together.
“It took him like a year to just figure it out, just find out what it was,” Hays said of Sedlock’s injured past. ”But I’m glad that they were able to get it fixed and that he’s been able to be healthy the last year.”
The third aspect of family was the Orioles’ organizational reclamation of Sedlock. There’s much left to improve, he said after his outing on Sunday — three-plus innings, six hits, five earned runs — but his bounce-back to get to Fenway Park, filled with uncertainty and medical visits, will not be taken for granted.
There’s plenty left to see exactly how Sedlock fits into the Orioles’ plans this year as a multi-inning right-handed arm out of the bullpen. The roster squeeze and rotating need for pitching might make him a frequent rider of the shuttle between Baltimore and Norfolk.
But that’ll be easier to endure with Sunday in the rear-view mirror — a day, very easily and very recently, thought not possible.
“If someone said that there weren’t doubts, they’d be lying to you,” Sedlock said. “But as soon as those doubts come, you dig deep into all of the past failures that you’ve had and how it’s led you to get to the point you are today.
“To go through all those struggles, all the injuries, everything and the low points — to get back to where I am today — I don’t see anything that I can’t come back from now. I can hold that for the rest of my life.”