BRADENTON, Fla. – The last time Brandon Cumpton pitched in a game was September 13, 2014. The relief outing came in Pittsburgh against the Cubs. It was long enough ago that it was before the Cubs were a powerhouse and one of the best teams in baseball. At the time they were on their way to a 71-91 record. Cumpton was pitching to Russell Martin that day, and Pirates fans were wondering how the future of the catching situation would work out.
A lot has happened since that last appearance, with the Pirates going from the middle of a three-year stretch of making the playoffs, to what is hopefully a short stretch of struggling to have competitive seasons.
A lot happened with Cumpton as well. He was set to be a key depth option for the 2015 rotation or bullpen, but went down with Tommy John surgery. He started throwing again later that season, but was shut down with a shoulder injury, and had shoulder debridement surgery to clean up another issue that appeared. That put him out for a second straight season, and the combination of those missed years slowed and delayed his debut in 2017. In terms of personal change, a lot happened for Cumpton during this time as well, with the biggest change being that he and his wife had a son this past October.
Now a father, and once a top depth option for the Pirates, Cumpton is nearing the end of his long recovery. Last Friday he made his first appearance in a game against another team, throwing an inning in an extended Spring Training game. He followed that up with another appearance early this week.
“I feel like I can see the light at the end of the tunnel,” Cumpton said. “We’ve still got a ways to go. Still got to get in there and get a two inning. Probably my third outing we might go two innings just to get used to that, just to get used to the ups and downs of a game.”
Cumpton has spent most of the last two-plus years in Bradenton. He stayed in Bradenton the entire year after his Tommy John surgery — outside of a few quick trips home — and then stayed all of 2016 while recovering from the shoulder surgery. It got to the point where he had a two locker setup last year at Pirate City, with one locker looking like a personal closet with a pretty large shoe cubby. He was able to finally leave for an extended period this past October for the birth of his son, and didn’t return until January, marking the first extended time away from Pirate City since the start of 2015.
There still isn’t a target date for Cumpton to return to official games. He’s currently building up in extended Spring Training, and he expects to go to Bradenton at some point after this to begin his rehab. Eventually, he will end up in Indianapolis, where he will be pitching as a reliever. The good news right now is that he’s not experiencing any issues with the elbow or shoulder.
“It’s been feeling really good,” Cumpton said after his first game.
Cumpton will now try to work his way back into the mix, not only to get back to Indianapolis, but to try and get back to Pittsburgh. The Pirates have so many options for the rotation that he won’t be getting any consideration for that role. They also have a lot of bullpen options in Triple-A, led by Edgar Santana and Dovydas Neverauskas. Cumpton will try and join that mix and make his way back into the fold as a depth option. If he doesn’t make the team by the end of the year, he would be eligible for minor league free agency, at which point he could find a better opportunity. Time will tell if he can return to being the pitcher he was before the injuries, but the good thing now is that he’s finally back, with his injury issues behind him.