DUNEDIN, Fla. -- When Tom Koehler showed up to Pirates spring camp on a Minor League deal in February, he felt good after two years out of the game due to injuries. When things turned back toward discomfort, he decided Monday to announce his retirement from the game of baseball,
DUNEDIN, Fla. -- When Tom Koehler showed up to Pirates spring camp on a Minor League deal in February, he felt good after two years out of the game due to injuries. When things turned back toward discomfort, he decided Monday to announce his retirement from the game of baseball, exactly two years after the last live game action he saw as a pro.
But much like he did throughout his career, Koehler went down fighting.
Koehler, 33, was drafted in 2008 by the Marlins and pitched over six Major League seasons. As a back-end starter, he was as durable as anyone, pitching a combined 698 1/3 innings from 2013-16.
“He was definitely a competitor and he had really good stuff,” said manager Derek Shelton, who was the Rays’ hitting coach from 2009-16. “That was our Interleague rival when I was in Tampa. So going back years, seeing him when he was at the top of his game, his stuff really played at the Major League level.”
After being traded to Toronto, the Blue Jays moved him to a relief role in 2017, then he joined the Dodgers to end the year, looking to be a helpful piece for the eventual National League champions in 2018. But on March 2 of that year, while in Spring Training with Los Angeles, Koehler exited a Cactus League game and later learned he sustained an anterior capsule sprain in his right shoulder.
Though Koehler had his eyes on making it back to a big league mound, he wasn’t oblivious to the struggles he’d faced since that day -- the consistent rehab measures, the reassessment periods that turned into more reassessment periods and the mental fortitude that required.
“It was always going to be tough,” Koehler said. “The toughest part of it, honestly, is that when I came to Spring Training, I felt great. My first two bullpens ... it was like, ‘Alright, he’s back. This is the guy we signed. This is what we wanted.’”
Then, Koehler threw his first live bullpen, and he knew something didn’t feel right. He knew that he could be shut down for four to six weeks and -- who knows? -- maybe have a shot at finally achieving his goal. But experienced in the language of rehab, he knew the energy it would take, and he believed it was time to bow out.
“It’s tough to be a pitcher when you can’t throw the ball,” Koehler said. “So that’s unfortunately where I’m at.”
Where does he head now? Tomorrow, it’s to the bench of his daughter Riley’s softball team, who he said he’s going to help coach. Maybe it’s a little preparation for future possibilities, too.
As he puts it, “My phone is open.”
“I would not cross that one off a list,” Koehler said of a future as manager. “I would say that that’s definitely a possibility. I’m still trying to understand all of the new-age stuff. I’ve read a lot of the books that have been written about sabermetrics and things like that, and I feel like I understand players very well.”
Koehler gets high marks from Shelton, who knew him before this spring as both were part of the Blue Jays in 2017.
“I don’t think we’ve seen the last of Tom Koehler in baseball, personally,” Shelton said. “Not speaking for him. I think he’s going to go home and be with his family and talk to his wife, but I think he’s going to be able to provide for the game. And the game needs people like him, because he has a passion for it.”
Of course, any opportunity would first have to come with the approval of his wife, Ashley, and his daughters, Riley and Reese. He plans to “devote the same time and energy” as they did for him during his 12-year pro career, from stops at gyms and pillow toss work on vacations to the travel required of any baseball player and his family.
“I don’t have a lot of answers for what tomorrow brings,” Koehler said, “but at least today, I feel like I’m in a very good place.”
Jake Crouse is a reporter/editor for MLB.com based in Pittsburgh. Follow him on Twitter @JakeCrouseMLB.