SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — Last year, on the first day of November, Sam Dyson started throwing.
“I haven’t stopped throwing yet. I’m gassed,” the right-hander said three weeks into action in the Arizona Fall League. “I’m giving you what’s left at the bottom of my sock.”
A vivid image, but no one had the clairvoyance to see the melee his first season of pro ball would become. Especially not Dyson himself.
After being drafted in the fourth round of 2010, the 24-year-old hadn’t thrown a pitch with the Blue Jays’ organization until this past April for reasons that are all too familiar to Toronto fans; he was recovering from Tommy John surgery.
A confident player, even with his history of injury, Dyson was drafted twice before he finally signed with the Blue Jays. Confidence can breed unrealistic expectations for some, but he kept his goals simple going into 2012.
“Number one, stay healthy. Number two, get back into a rhythm on the mound and see what level I was at,” Dyson said, in the shade of the home bullpen at Salt River Fields.
The Tampa-born pitcher wanted nothing more than to stay off of the disabled list when he began his season in the Florida State League with Class-A Dunedin.
Six starts later, Dyson left his home state with a promotion to Double-A New Hampshire. His velocity had dropped when he returned to throwing, but a move to the bullpen with the Fisher Cats helped to spike it back up.
He didn’t know that with 21 minor-league appearances to his name, he’d warranted his call up to the Toronto club. As exciting as it was for the hurler, he wasn’t sure he was prepared. After all, it was only July.
“It was a little overwhelming. I definitely didn’t think it was going to come that soon,” said Dyson, who was called up with a 0.75 ERA with the Fisher Cats, having allowed just two earned runs in 24 innings pitched.
“When I got up there, I was really hesitant to throw strikes. I was completely different from when I was in the minor leagues.”
His major-league line is one that he’ll be happy to re-write. In two games, Dyson walked two, and the big-league bats took him for three earned runs on four hits. He did earn a strike out, fanning Kansas City’s Yuniesky Betancourt.
“I didn’t trust my stuff as much as I did down here [in the minors],” Dyson said. “The confidence in the secondary stuff – when can I throw it and when can I not throw it. Not thinking about hanging it, just throwing it over the plate as hard as I can.”
He knows what he can do with two pitches. Dyson throws a fastball that he can move where he wants it to, and his change up is doing the job. His third pitch is the one in question.
“The other one, I think it’s the curve ball. It’s more of a hard slurve,” he said. “The organization wants me to work on my slider, but I haven’t had much success with it.”
“I’ve been brainstorming a lot. I’m losing sleep over it, that’s for sure.”
At this point in the year, there’s more to the former University of South Carolina pitcher’s story than the numbers he’s seeing with the Salt River Rafters.
Through 7.2 innings pitched in Arizona, Dyson has a 7.04 ERA, allowing six runs on 12 hits. He has also struck out eight in his fall league tenure, and is the only Toronto prospect named to the East division roster of the AFL Rising Stars Game.
“[It’s] trying to improve on the things you’re not so good at, and refine the things you are good at,” said Dyson of his lessons with the Rafters.
“You can pick up stuff in your delivery and mechanics, but you still have to throw strikes and battle out there.”
Battling would be an understatement. Dyson has learned that he can’t hold back, and his most valuable asset for his next turn in Toronto will be the trust he has in his own ability.
This off-season, he’s earned his rest.