PHOENIX—In the middle of this past season, Shane Lindsay figured he had a choice: Either he could keep traveling down the same old path, running into trouble off the field, or put everything into his career and see if he seriously could threaten the big leagues.
He would walk around the clubhouse in low Class A Asheville following a demotion from high Class A Modesto, looking at the younger pitchers in the Rockies’ system as they fired away, made progress and—gasp—tried to catch him on the depth chart.
His right hand badly damaged from an altercation outside a Modesto restaurant that had wrecked the heart of his season and there Lindsay was, left to think about what could be. He already had missed the 2007 season following shoulder surgery.
“It made me take charge of my life and say, ‘How am I going to keep this from happening again?’ ” Lindsay said.
It looks like he is answering that question.
Assigned to the Phoenix Desert Dogs in the prestigious Arizona Fall League, Lindsay is eager to make the most of his opportunity and could very well open more eyes now that he is sliding into the rotation slot being vacated by the Diamondbacks’ Max Scherzer.
Scherzer fulfilled his scheduled three-start plan and the Desert Dogs will move Lindsay from the bullpen for their Thursday afternoon game against the Peoria Javelinas.
It is, without a doubt, more than a mere footnote. It could change the direction of Lindsay’s career.
By the end of next month, the Rockies must decide whether to protect Lindsay on their 40-man roster or leave him exposed to the Rule 5 draft in which any other club could take a $50,000 chance on his services.
Clearly, he could be valuable. His fastball is back to showing the life it had before, with radar gun readings ranging from 91 mph to as high as 97 mph here in the AFL. He’s also got the 12-to-6 spike curveball going and could enhance his stock if he ever gets a good feel for when to use his changeup.
Through 7.1 innings in the AFL, he has eight strikeouts, three walks and has yielded three runs, all earned, on six hits.
“Shane can be his own worst enemy,” said Doug Linton, the Phoenix pitching coach who oversaw Lindsay this year in Asheville. “He’s got major league talent if he puts it all together. I think he’s starting to realize it. Once he realizes pitching is his No. 1 priority, this guy will definitely pitch in the big leagues.”
Lindsay, a 6-foot-1, 212-pound righthander from Melbourne, Australia, has been pitching since midseason with eight screws and a metal plate in his left hand.
He said the screws and plate will be removed after the season and that they do not affect the way he pitches.
Nevertheless, the injury came about as the result of an altercation in which Lindsay said he and a member of his host family in Modesto were attacked one night at a restaurant.
The episode happened in late May, and Lindsay returned to throw 30 late-season innings, including six frames with 10 strikeouts in the playoffs, for Asheville. He turns 24 in January.
“I’ve just got to keep my nose clean,” Lindsay said. The frustrating part, he said, was that “I was finally healthy and trying to get back to having a decent season.
“I try not to dwell on things but you try to learn from stuff,” Lindsay said. “I took the approach of, ‘How do I get better?’ I started to think about where I go and the company I keep.”
Lindsay was signed as a non-drafted free agent in August 2003, and BA named him the top prospect in the short-season Northwest League in 2005, when he struck out 107 in 66 innings and finished 6-1, 1.89.
The opportunity to pitch in the AFL isn’t lost on him now at all. Not after watching Scherzer’s first start.
“I’m very happy with the opportunity to be here,” Lindsay said. “It looks like I can face hitters I hadn’t had the chance to face this year. They’re not inexperienced. They all have a plan.
“When I came out here, I was like, ‘I’ve got to bring my A game. It’s going to be a test.’ And Max Scherzer started the first game and got hit hard that first inning and I was like, ‘Geesh, where am I at?’”
Linton, his pitching coach, has seen progress, particularly thanks to a mechanical adjustment. Lindsay had a tendency to lean his head away as he fired to home plate. The problem created fastballs that he could not command. It also prevented him from throwing his curveball for strikes.
“(The AFL) could springboard me a lot down the road to reach the big leagues,” Lindsay said. “But I’ve still got to get batters out. I’m looking forward to (moving to the rotation.) My fastball is back to normal, and this is probably the best it’s felt ever.”