Rasmussen sneaky 'pen pick? 'It ain't sneaky'

Right-hander has undergone multiple surgeries, including Tommy John

February 25th, 2020

PHOENIX -- Tom Flanagan remembers the day last spring when a crowd gathered around one of the back mounds at American Family Fields of Phoenix. Standing there, flanked by all of the technology the Brewers use to measure pitchers, was right-hander , ready for a throwing session more than three years in the making.

Frankly, it made Flanagan, the Brewers farm director, uncomfortable.

“I kind of wandered away because I felt a little bad,” Flanagan said. “It was like, ‘Hey, this is almost too hyped with all of these onlookers. Let’s let the kid pitch and let him get back.”

Almost a year has passed since then, and it appears Rasmussen is back. On the heels of a solid season in which he struck out 96 batters in 74 1/3 healthy innings while breezing through three levels of Milwaukee’s Minor League season, Rasmussen made his unofficial big league debut in Monday’s Cactus League win over the A’s. He touched 99 mph on the stadium radar gun. Having yet to throw a pitch at the Triple-A level, he’s not in contention for the Brewers’ Opening Day roster, but considering how many different relievers Milwaukee tends to summon throughout the season, a 2020 callup is theoretically in the cards.

Has any Draft pick in Brewers history come back further, faster?

Rasmussen was a stud at Oregon State University, author of the first perfect game in school history in 2015. He needed Tommy John surgery the following March but made it all the way back to pitch in the 2017 College World Series, and he remained so highly-regarded that the Tampa Bay Rays made Rasmussen the 31st overall pick in the 2017 Draft.

But when he underwent his physical exam before signing, an MRI scan revealed that he had re-torn the ligament in his elbow. Rasmussen would need another surgery and another long rehab. He was right in the middle of that comeback when Milwaukee took him in the sixth round of the 2018 Draft.

The following March, Rasmussen found himself on that back mound in West Phoenix. More than nine months had passed since his second Draft day. About three years had passed since his first elbow surgery.

He hit 100 mph on the radar gun.

“I think if you’re worried and concerned, you’re already losing the battle,” Rasmussen said. “You need to attack the game and attack hitters with no fear. If you’re having fear or second thoughts, I think you’re already in trouble. I’d be lying if I said there wasn’t hesitation at some point along the road, but for the most part, I tried to put that in the back of my mind and not even worry about it.”

Rasmussen made his first start last season at Class A Wisconsin before four starts at Class A Advanced Carolina and then 22 appearances (18 starts) at Double-A Biloxi. All told, Rasmussen registered a 3.15 ERA and held opponents to a .216 batting average.

“You see the stats, and it’s not always good for guys coming back the second time,” Flanagan said. “But with him, we feel really good. The [velocity] jumps off the board, and now it’s working on his other pitches so he has more weapons in his toolbox.”

Time will help, too.

“Whenever there’s a major injury for any player, the more innings, the more at-bats he can put between himself and that event, it’s certainly a plus,” Flanagan said. “To Drew’s credit, he’s been the model rehabber. Doing whatever is asked, but not doing things away from the park. He is very eager to get back, like most players are, but sometimes that will put you in trouble.”

Against the A’s on Monday in his spring debut, Rasmussen struck out a batter in a clean inning. He said there were nerves, which were to be expected, and described the sensation as a combination of “anxious and excited.”

Afterward, Brewers bench coach Pat Murphy, who managed the split-squad game while Craig Counsell stayed home for the other game against the Angels, was asked whether Rasmussen is a sneaky pick to make the big league bullpen.

“It ain’t sneaky,” Murphy said with a big smile.

Rasmussen doesn’t think much about surgery anymore. He said he would rather look forward.

What lessons did he learn along his rehab road?

“Enjoy it,” Rasmussen said, “because you don’t always have it and eventually it will be taken from everyone.”