The Daily Item, Sunbury, PA

July 11, 2013

Pro baseball: Ex-Bison Daley hoping to get back to Bigs

Daily Item

---- — By Tom Robinson

For the Daily Item

MOOSIC -- Matt Daley's mere presence on the roster could not draw the New York media by the dozens to PNC Field. His moves were not cause for in-game updates on ESPN's SportsCenter.

Ticket sales did not soar and produce the second and third sellouts of the season for the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders based on speculation about when Daley would appear next.

Twitter, Facebook, text messages and camera phones did not track where the former Bucknell University pitcher bought his coffee, ate his meals or stopped for a little postgame relaxation throughout the past week.

Derek Jeter, the all-time hit leader of baseball's most famous and successful franchise, has been at the center of all that adulation while bringing attention — and crowds of 10,000 — to northeastern Pennsylvania during the past week.

Two other all-stars — Curtis Granderson and Michael Pineda — have, like Jeter, used the New York Yankees Class AAA farm team as part of the process in trying to return from injury to productive Major League careers. Granderson could be back in Moosic, along with Alex Rodriguez, before the season is over.

All are trying to return to the highest level of the sport after being injured.

When Jeter left Monday's game after five innings, the other switch RailRiders manager Dave Miley made at the time involved Daley.

As Walter Ibarra was warming up at shortstop to replace Jeter, Daley was jogging past him from the left-field bullpen, heading to the mound and the continuation of another battle back from injury. For Daley, for many reasons, the process is a much slower one.

Jeter's injury and re-injury were serious by the standards of ankle troubles. His age, however, probably has more than his ankle to do with any skepticism about how strong Jeter's game will be in New York after a few rehab appearances.

Daley is trying to make it back to the big leagues, while using a rebuilt arm to try to resume a modest Major League pitching career that brought him from his college days in central Pennsylvania to three years with the Colorado Rockies.

"I just wait and see what they need," said Daley, who warmed up early and sat back down without entering the game Sunday, then came in for the sixth and seventh innings Monday. "I will do anything they ask me.

"There's nothing I wouldn't do to get back to the big leagues. Whatever they need from me, I will definitely do."

Daley went all of 2012 without appearing in a regular-season game and got off to a delayed start this year. Surgery to repair a torn labrum in his pitching shoulder forced the right-hander to restart the throwing process from scratch again. He has progressed to the point of being one of the RailRiders' most effective relievers without yet landing a role to match his success.

"It definitely took longer than I wanted, but they say it takes about a year and a half to two years to really get back to where you were," Daley said. "I'm at 22 months that right now."

Daley knows all about extended recovery periods. His elbow was rebuilt through Tommy John surgery in 2002, forcing Daley to miss his entire sophomore season at Bucknell.

"That definitely helped a lot because I knew how much work I was going to have to put into the therapy afterward," Daley said. "But, in some ways it kind of hurt because the recovery from that was so seamless and went so well that when I had setbacks with this, it made it a little frustrating at times that it was not as perfect a rehab as the elbow was."

The recovery at Bucknell went so well that Daley had a strong junior year out of the bullpen, gaining attention that led to summer league play in Illinois and some professional offers. Instead, he came back for a standout senior year that featured a no-hitter, a 6-2 record and 2.82 ERA, all-star honors and a second straight Patriot League championship.

Daley made his way to the National League five years later, at 26. Now, at 31, he is trying to prove he eventually will be ready to help the Yankees remain in contention in the American League.

"For me, at this point, as long as I stay healthy, I have a lot of years ahead of me," Daley said. "I know I'm not a spring chicken, but I feel like my body's in great shape and my shoulder feels good."

The Yankees have already shown they believe in Daley's capabilities.

Daley split 2009, 2010 and 2011 between the Colorado Rockies and their Class AAA farm team in Colorado Springs. Despite playing his home games in a hitter's park, Daley put up respectable numbers, going 1-2 with a 4.71 ERA in 92 National League games. He made it to Colorado the first time by dominating AAA hitters in 2009, striking out 19 while posting an 0.90 ERA in 10 innings.

The torn labrum surgery was performed in August of 2011, but the Yankees still gambled on a one-year contract for Daley for 2012.

"It definitely meant a lot to me," said Daley, who has returned to Lewisburg for camp appearances and still follows the progress of Bucknell's program. "They knew at the time that last year could have been a lost year, but they still wanted to make that investment in me and work with me."

Daley's one-year contract with the Yankees ended, but he resigned with the organization.

"I wanted to be loyal to them because they had been loyal to me," he said.

The trip back has been slow at times. Daley was shut down twice last season because of bursitis.

Although doctors and trainers assured him that this was a common setback, Daley acknowledged that it was hard not to be concerned while he sat waiting.

The only game action Daley got in 2012 was in two Instructional League games in the fall.

Daley stayed behind after spring training this April, admitting he was not quite ready.

Two conversations with Yankees senior vice president of baseball operations Mark Newman followed, one to tell Newman "he was close, but not quite there" and another when Daley felt ready after three weeks of extended spring training.

Newman agreed with Daley's self-assessment each time.

"He was great with me," Daley said.

Two levels of minor leaguers have shown that they were no match for the veteran from Flushing, N.Y. Daley is doing his best to prove that he is too good for the highest level of the minors as well.

Daley struck out 10 in 5 1/3 scoreless innings over four games at Class A Tampa. He went 3-0 with a 1.00 ERA while fanning 11 more in 10 innings at Class AA Trenton.

After a dozen games at Class AAA, Daley does not have a decision, but has posted a 2.51 earned run average. He has struck out 19 while giving up just eight hits and four walks in 14 1/3 innings.

Jeter left Monday's game after going 0-for-2 with a walk. As a portion of the crowd began to filter out, Daley snuck in to work two perfect innings.

Those who stuck around to see the entire game saw a standout performance in the low-profile role of middle relief. Daley struck out four of the six batters he faced and threw 18 of 22 pitches for strikes, throwing only two balls after the first batter he faced.

Jeter drew the attention, but Daley had a bigger part in the fifth straight win by a team that is suddenly bursting with momentum at the gate in the International League standings.

"There's no magic bullet," Daley said. "It's really just stay healthy and pitch the way I know I can pitch and good things will happen at that point.

"That's the way you have to believe and I do."

For those who are watching, Daley's progress is easy to see.