ALTOONA, PA – Chris Stewart has been on the disabled list since July 4th, citing left knee discomfort. But, Stewart was not only dealing with knee issues, he had a couple bum knees, a bum ankle, a hurt arm, and an ailing major league veteran catcher’s body that seemed to be falling apart on him.
As reported, surgery on the worst of his ailments — his left knee — became a real option for the veteran backstop; however, Stewart took the option to take a break from all baseball activities, rest, and try to get the knee in good enough shape to finish the season.
“Surgery was only necessary if I couldn’t play, so I took a break,” Stewart said. “We treated it as best as we could. This is pretty much the last-ditch effort to see if I can play this year. If I can’t play after these next couple rehab games, we’ll have to shut down again and get surgery. We’re testing it out to see what I can do. Hopefully, it goes well and I can get back to Pittsburgh to help the team win.”
He categorized his left knee as “an old knee, basically”, saying that there wasn’t really any major damage; rather, there is a myriad of wear and tear that has added up over the years.
“We’re just seeing how much I can take at the moment, and the only way we will know is by playing on it.”
They did not do any lower body activity for the first few weeks on the DL, just to give everything a breather. The break from baseball activities allowed his bruised and beaten ankle to heal up after taking a few foul balls in the span of three days.
“My ankle was hating me after that,” he said. “I think the rest from the knee, I was able to rest some other things, too. I got hit in the arm, and I had a bunch of other stuff going on at that time, too. It’s actually kind of a godsend for me to be able to get a break and try to come back healthy.”
Stewart has been ramping it up over the last three weeks in preparation for game activity, essentially doing everything they could to simulate a game before on Friday night.
“We have a pretty good idea of how it would turn out tonight,” he said. “It was just going out and doing it.”
The first step of this “last-ditch effort” went well on Friday night in Altoona, PA, as Stewart strapped on his new, shiny red catcher’s gear and took up residence behind the plate for Clay Holmes’ start and seven innings total.
— Sean McCool (@NotSoMcCool) August 12, 2016
He went 1-for-2 from the plate with an RBI single and a walk. He walked in the second inning before slapping a line drive single to left field in the fourth. He also tried to score from second base in the fourth inning and slid hard into home plate, making decent contact with the opposing catcher. He did seem to get up a little gingerly, but he said he felt fine from the collision after the game.
“I was excited,” Stewart said about the play at the plate. “It was a little bang-bang play there. I slid into him, and he put good pressure on me. There was contact there, but everything went well, so I was excited about that. You’re a little tentative about sliding or making plays where there is going to be a little contact, but that was one that I wasn’t really thinking about it. It happened, and everything turned out well.”
Defensively, Stewart didn’t get to throw to any bases, but he said after the game that he isn’t too worried about his arm. He did make some good blocks and participated in a rundown to get a runner out on the third base line.
“Everything felt good. I did everything possible to test it out tonight,” Stewart said. “I ran the bases, had a couple slides, some quick breaks, and some balls in the dirt. I didn’t throw today, but that’s not a huge issue. We knocked a lot of boxes off the check list, and we’re just going to keep doing everything and hope it goes well.”
Ultimately, the true test for Stewart is how his body recovers tomorrow following a game’s work. During the time before his DL stint — where it really did look like he was playing on a true Pirates’ peg leg — Stewart said that he would feel good before going to sleep then wake up feeling terrible the next day. His hope that a little TLC tonight will alleviate any of those pains that creep up the next day and keep everything going in forward motion in terms of a recovery.
“All signs are pointing up,” Stewart said. “It’s just a matter of how it feels tomorrow, and we’ll go from there.”
He will take Saturday off from behind the plate, then Stewart will catch Tyler Glasnow’s rehab start on Sunday. The plan is for him to go seven innings, but he did not rule out the possibility of playing a full nine.
Stewart also hinted that his stay with the Curve may be longer than most rehab guys that come through Altoona, as he said that he’s “going to be here for a little while”, giving him more opportunities to work with the Jin-De Jhang and the pitching staff.
“We’ll get to go over how I like to go about it – calling a game, what I see out there, reading swings, calling pitches, the whole repertoire of being a good catcher,” Stewart said of the possibility of working with Jhang during his stint in Altoona. “I’ll have the time to work with him, and I look forward to it.”
He also hopes to mentor some of the pitching staff, saying that he was able to talk to Clay Holmes before and throughout the game about different aspects that should help him moving forward. (On a side note, Holmes told me that Stewart watched his last start before he arrived in Altoona and came to him with a game plan to attack hitters tonight. I thought that showed great leadership and effort by the major leaguer.)
“I talked to him about things that I saw,” Stewart said about Holmes. “Some certain keys that he can work on, and some things from the upper levels that he could expect. You’re able to get away with some stuff down here, but it’s not going to work in the upper levels.”
When asked what else needs to happen for him to call his rehab stint a success, he promptly replied with a laugh: “Some more base hits maybe.”