One of the Clippers’ most reliable starters returned to the rotation this week after encountering two stints on the DL earlier this season. Chris Michalak talked with CapitolDugout.com on Thursday about his rehab, his reputation as a contact pitcher, and how it feels to be playing in the Midwest again.
Michalak injured his left groin in a game against Durham on April 17, and then after returning from the injured list, he strained the groin again on May 8 at Buffalo. Following the second injury, the left-hander worked hard with the Clippers’ training staff to make certain that he was ready to return to the mound.
“[Clippers Trainer] Mike Quinn put me through a pretty grueling rehab to strengthen up that groin area to enable me to withstand the pounding that goes along with pitching,” Michalak said. “I just did a lot of strengthening exercises as far as lifting with the legs, and basically getting treatment every day, whether it was some type of hot whirlpool or cold tub, things like that.”
The measures Quinn took with Michalak obviously worked because Michalak returned to the mound on Monday and responded with a brilliant performance. The southpaw pitched seven scoreless innings against Ottawa, allowing only four hits and notching the win. Michalak said that being on the DL can actually be beneficial to some extent.
“The one thing with being on the DL is that my arm feels really fresh,” Michalak said. “I’ve been able to keep that in shape. The biggest thing was that I threw pain-free. Actually, for these last two weeks now, I haven’t felt any types of little twinges or anything like that. To go out there and do that, to pitch, make some plays and run around, it was encouraging for me because it solidified that I’m where I need to be.”
Unlike other injuries that would require more rest, Michalak’s bum groin allowed him to work out with his arm throughout the rehab process. Although he still had to be cautious with the groin, he said that the extra bullpen sessions allowed him to come back and pitch effectively.
“As far as being able to keep command of my pitches, I was able to do that because I was able to throw everyday,” Michalak said. “That’s why I was able to come back and be sharp out on the mound.”
While healthy, Michalak’s arm has been as dependable as any on the Clippers’ pitching staff. In seven games, he has posted a 3-2 record with a 2.45 ERA in 29 1/3 IP. However, Michalak has registered only 11 strikeouts in that stretch. For Michalak, strikeouts are great, but he goes with a less dominating approach while on the mound.
“I’m a contact pitcher,” Michalak said. “I try to keep the ball out in the middle of the plate and let the defense do the work. I try to throw strikes to get ahead early and put them on the defensive. Then, they have to hit my pitch. I watch guys like Jamie Moyer and Kenny Rogers. They make them put it in play. They don’t throw hard and they don’t strike out a lot of guys, but they don’t walk too many guys either.”
Not too many players are able to pitch into their 40s like Moyer and Rogers, but that doesn’t seem too far-fetched for Michalak. The 36-year-old still has plenty left in the tank and he is hoping that—with a few more consistent outings—Washington will recognize his effectiveness on the mound and will call him up during the second half of the season.
“I just have to continue to be consistent,” Michalak said. “I hope that will be the thing that gets me there, and they will realize that I’m healthy and I’m able to be consistent on a daily basis. Granted, everybody is going to have an off day. But every time I go out to the mound, I’m going to give the best I’ve got and hopefully give them an opportunity to win a ballgame.”
Although he is always hopeful of moving up to the big leagues, Michalak said he is enjoying his time in Columbus. Michalak, an Illinois native who also played his college ball at the University of Notre Dame, is always fond of playing near where he grew up.
“I love being back in the Midwest,” Michalak said. It’s close to home and it’s close to South Bend. That’s a big plus. There’s just something about the Midwest—not to take anything away from anywhere else. It’s home and the people are very friendly and accommodating. It’s just always good to be back.”
Yet, Columbus is probably just another stop on what has already been a long ride for Michalak. He has played for 13 different organizations and saw action at the big-league level with Arizona, Toronto, Texas, and Cincinnati. But Michalak has a lasting passion for the game and he has no plans of stopping anytime soon.
“I tell you what, I don’t know if I’m going to play for all 30 [MLB teams], but I’m going to make sure all 30 tell me no before I’m done playing,” Michalak said. “I think that’s the life of a left-hander, especially a left-hander that doesn’t really throw that hard, but can pitch and get people out. It’s just a matter of being in the right place at the right time. Hopefully now I’m in the right place.”