Matt Daley hopes Triple-A Scranton is the last stop on a long road to homecoming

04/05/2013 9:45 AM ET
By Lou DiPietro

Matt Daley peers in at a batter during a Spring Training appearance. (AP)
It has been more than 22 months since Matt Daley has thrown a pitch that counted, and by the time he takes an official mound again, it could be close to two full years.

On May 31, 2011, Daley, then with the Rockies, pitched two-thirds of an inning against the Dodgers, leaving after surrendering three runs. His right shoulder hadn’t felt quite right for a few days, but little did he know that his 23rd and final pitch on that Tuesday night would be not only his last in a Rockies uniform, but also his final pitch for almost two years.

A few days later, Daley was placed on the disabled list with what was termed inflammation and right rotator cuff impingement. He hoped to return quickly, but after a series of setbacks, he had surgery to repair the labrum in his throwing shoulder in August and would miss the rest of the season, eventually getting outrighted to the Minors and released by Colorado in November.

The Yankees signed Daley to a Minor League deal in December 2011 and he hoped to be in the mix sometime around Memorial Day 2012, but a couple more setbacks ended up costing him all of 2012, a result that challenged his mind as much as his body.

“It was more the mental challenge of getting my hopes up each time things started going well and then that setback would happen and you're right back down to Earth,” Daley told Newsday’s Erik Boland about his 2012 earlier this spring. “That was the toughest part for me."

After missing the majority of two seasons, Daley came to Yankees camp in 2013 healthy and ready to go, and in reflecting on his arduous journey, the 30-year-old righty knows that even if he didn’t get to pitch in 2012, he did get a leg up in one other way.

“Last year, I just wanted to be a part of the team, but it's very hard to do that when you're not doing the same thing as them,” he told me earlier this spring, “but being able to be here last year and get acclimated to the Yankee way is something that I think will benefit me going forward.”

And now, after two long years, Daley is awaiting his chance; he was not on the active Opening Day roster, but it is expected that at some point, Daley will join Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre as part of the inaugural RailRiders season…and this time, a promotion would not only mean a return to “The Show,” but also a homecoming.

Daley is from Garden City, N.Y., just a short drive from the New York City limits, and his parents still live in the town he helped to a state baseball title in 2000. The righty has pitched in New York before while with the Rockies – an appearance at Citi Field that self-professed childhood Mets fan called “pretty cool” – but if and when Daley gets the call to the new House That Ruth Built, it will be a surreal experience for a city kid.

“Yankee Stadium is a whole different animal, and the franchise has a whole lot more history, so that’s going to be an amazing day if and when it comes,” Daley said. “I know I’ll have tons of family and friends there.”

As Daley believes, and any GM might admit off the record, the oft-changing entity that is a Major League bullpen can be quite volatile; at some point, someone is going to have to get that call, so why not him?

“I think that everyone hopes for perfect health and performance in a Major League bullpen, but it’s so rare that it happens, and that’s why so many guys are brought into camp,” Daley said. “My goal is to be ready when that phone call comes and help the team out when they need it.”

In talking to Erik Boland earlier this spring, Yankees assistant GM Billy Eppler and pitching coach Larry Rothschild both agreed that Daley’s unique crouched delivery – one that gives him an arm slot similar to 2012 bullpen star Cody Eppley’s – is a deceptive tactic that works to his advantage. Daley himself admitted earlier this spring that he’s working on a sinker that he can add to the three pitches he already uses, and he hopes that new weapon, combined with the fact that he knows he would have a specific role in the Yankees bullpen if and when he gets there, can make him an asset.

“I’m a guy who’s going to come in in the sixth or seventh inning with runners on to try to get out of a jam, and then maybe go back out there for another inning or two,” Daley said.

And it’s doing just that, Daley says, that is really the only goal he has for 2013.

“I try not to set personal goals, say I want to do this or I want to do that; all I really want to do is stay healthy,” he said. “If I stay healthy and pitch the way I’m supposed to, I know I’ve got a good chance to get up to New York at some point and help the team win. That’s really what I want to do, especially at this stage; I’m 30 years old, and I want to be a part of a winning baseball team.”

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