Sidearmer Sandlin has career back on track

March 13th, 2021
Courtesy of Cleveland Indians

GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- For the first time since June 2019, Nick Sandlin is back in game action.

Sandlin waited 20 months to have the rush of competing again. And after a solid spring debut on Monday, his second outing in Cleveland's 5-4 loss to the Giants on Saturday was even stronger. The 24-year-old was called on with one out and the bases loaded in the third, and he issued back-to-back strikeouts to escape the jam.

Sandlin is a sidearm-throwing right-hander who was the Tribe’s No. 30 prospect entering 2020, according to MLB Pipeline, but fell out of the Top 30 rankings after spending the late part of 2019 and early 2020 rehabbing his way back from right forearm surgery. He was limited to pitching at the Tribe’s alternate training site.

Sandlin was selected in the second round of the 2018 MLB Draft, and quickly made his way from the Rookie League to Double-A during the ’18 season. His fast progression generated whispers, wondering if this newly drafted 21-year-old was somehow going to jump all the way to the Majors.

“People talked about it, but at the end of the day, you gotta pitch where you're at and be where your feet are,” Sandlin said. “You gotta control pitches as good as you can to get to where you want to be. It was a wild couple months there, but it was a fun experience, I'll say that.”

But then, he started feeling discomfort in his forearm.

He continued pitching, but eventually the pain got too bad. In 2019, Sandlin was shut down with a stress fracture in his forearm in June before he decided to undergo surgery in August. He received a plate and six screws from the procedure and started working through his rehab at Spring Training last year. But just as he was getting into it, the COVID-19 pandemic forced him to finish his rehab on his own.

Sandlin then spent the year at the Tribe’s alternate training site in Lake County, Ohio, facing his teammates day after day in intrasquad scrimmages, trying to showcase that his surgery did not hinder his development. Although it wasn’t the year he was hoping for after missing the second half of the 2019 season, Sandlin said he did his best to take advantage of pitching at the alternate site.

“I think everyone took what we could from it,” Sandlin said. “We tried to stay ready for the season, obviously if they needed us, and then, you know, competing against the same guys for three months got a little difficult there then but we made the most of it.”

The biggest takeaway for Sandlin was there was no pain. He was finally healthy and back on the mound. The sidearmer doesn’t have overpowering stuff, but he’s able to keep hitters off balance by mixing his five different pitches from three different arm slots. According to Sandlin, it’s a throwing style he developed in his junior year of high school.

“It was the pitching coach's idea,” he said. “We had a guy who threw that way and he graduated and we were kind of maybe, I guess, trying to replace him. … Just really committed to it and it kind of took off from there. I started being successful with it my junior year and I don't know if I knew it was going to take me all the way to here, but definitely glad I made that switch.”

Sandlin said he looked up to Joe Smith and Steve Cishek while he was trying to also become a sidearm hurler in professional baseball. It’s worked for him thus far, as he posted a collective 3.00 ERA in four different levels in 2018 and a 2.39 ERA between Double- and Triple-A in 2019 while battling through his forearm discomfort.

While it’s frustrating for any player to have to step away to address an injury, Sandlin was able to limit his time away and now has performed well in two Spring Training outings.

“I'd say it was more relieving than anything,” Sandlin said. “It's been a while. I was thinking about it in the bullpen out there, I think it was around 20 months or so. It was a lot of fun. Just looking to get back out there soon and just competing against other guys and seeing hitters you haven't faced before.”