For LA Angels reliever Keynan Middleton it has been a long road back from Tommy John surgery. Middleton has taken a big step pitching in his second rehab start this time for the Inland Empire 66ers
For Keynan Middleton he can’t get back to to his guys, his LA Angels teammates, soon enough. “I’m just taking steps to getting back with my team and this is a big one, I’m happy,” Middleton said. “The toughest thing is not being there with my guys. I’ve watched every pitch of every single game. I just wish I could be at least in the dugout hanging out with these guys seeing them every day.”
Middleton threw 16 pitches with 11 of them being strikes for the 66ers with his fastest pitch being his last a 94 mile per hour fastball that struck out Lancaster’s clean-up hitter Sean Bouchard to end the first inning. Middleton had two strikeouts in the frame with the only batter reaching on an error. This was his second rehab appearance after pitching last Friday in the Arizona Rookie League where it only took Middleton seven pitches to retire the side with two strikeouts.
Middleton will throw one or two more outings later this week while the 66ers team is on the road in Visalia. Then Middleton will most likely join Triple-A Salt Lake City in Las Vegas for a couple of outings before heading back to Anaheim to join the Angels who start a seven-game homestand with the Seattle Mariners, Friday. For Middleton the sooner the better.
“It felt good. I’ve been feeling good for awhile now. I’m ready to come back as soon as they will let me,” Middleton said.
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Despite Middleton’s enthusiasm, the Angels will be very cautious with Middleton as he is considered to be a key piece in the Angels bullpen. When Middleton does return the Angels will most likely use him in high leverage situation in the late innings. He could even become their closer although Hansel Robles has been very effective in that role since taking over for Cody Allen who was replaced due to ineffectiveness, and was later released. Wherever the Angels decide to use Middleton, it will help bolster an already strong bullpen.
Middleton last pitched for the Angels on May 13, 2018 when he left the Angel Stadium mound with elbow soreness with two outs in the eighth inning, not being able to finish the inning. Middleton was placed on the injured list the next day and it was determined that there was a tear in his UCL that would require surgery.
For Middleton the road back has not always been smooth, but his motivation to get back has never wavered.
“(Tyler) Skaggs and (Andrew) Heaney were the two guys who had been through Tommy John (surgery), and they told me that you’re going to have good days and you’re going to have bad days,” Middleton said. “Those guys having my back because of who they are on the staff. It meant everything to me having their support.”
With Middleton close to reaching the end of his rehab, the tragedy that was Tyler Skaggs really hurt Middleton, just as it did for everyone on the team and in the organization. Middleton spoke about the affect the tragedy has had on him personally.
“I looked up to that guy (Tyler Skaggs) like he was a God. Him and (Andrew) Heaney have been like brothers to me since I came up, it’s hard to believe he is gone,” Middleton said. “By far the worst part about for me was not be there with my team when it happened. They were all there for each other. I was texting them letting them know I was there for them. Just not being able to be there for guys like Heaney, who is taking it really hard. I look up to him and not being to be there for him was really hard.”
Middleton had a special message to the Skaggs’ family.
"“You have been in my thoughts and prayers every day. Carli (Skaggs’ wife) you are the nicest girl ever. This is not easy for us. I can’t imagine what it is like for you and the family. (To Tyler’s mom Debbie) I looked up to your son and I will miss him. You all have been and will continue to be in my thoughts and prayers every day,” Middleton said with a tear in his eye."
Despite the tragedy and the tough week of injuries for the Angels, Middleton believes the team is not even close to being done yet and he hopes to infuse some life into them upon returning.
“It’s going to be emotional for me (getting back on the mound for the Angels). I’m already an emotional guy, but it’s going to be special. It’s something I have been dreaming about for the past 14 months. I’m very excited about it,” said Middleton with a big smile on his face.
"“We are still in the hunt. As you saw the night after everything happened (Skaggs death) we got down (game vs. Texas), but we fought back. Kole hit a home run and we won. I tweeted the next day that everyone expected us to fold, but that’s not us. We don’t fold, we’re doing everything for Tyler and we are going to finish out this season strong,” Middleton said.”"
Although during Middleton’s first outing in Inland Empire he didn’t have the velocity we are used to seeing (98-100 MPH), it was still good to see him on the mound again and know that his return to the Angels is near. When you add a guy like Middleton to an already strong bullpen, you can’t help but smile knowing that his presence makes that bullpen that much tougher. Then you add a guy like J.C. Ramirez to the mix whether as a starter or as a reliever and you can’t help being optimistic about the second-half of the season for the Angels.
“We are all very excited. We believe that we are still in this thing,” Middleton said. “We have rarely had our whole squad together this season. With me getting back, I’d like to say I’m a pretty big piece, and J.C Ramirez as well. If we can get all these pieces together I’m really excited about what can happen.”
We are excited too, Keynan and are looking forward to seeing you in Anaheim soon.