After debut brought TJ surgery, Griffin returns to Majors

Lefty reliever throws a perfect inning two seasons after his first MLB appearance

May 21st, 2022

KANSAS CITY -- ​​July 27, 2020, will always be a memorable date for Royals pitcher Foster Griffin.

The left-hander turned 25 that day and became the third pitcher since 1901 to celebrate a birthday, make a Major League debut and earn a win all on the same day. But it’s also the day he tore the UCL in his left elbow, forcing him to have Tommy John surgery.

He made his return to the Royals and pitched a scoreless inning Friday night as Kansas City lost, 6-4, to the Twins at Kauffman Stadium.

“I tried to make it feel like just another day on the bump,” Griffin said. “I just wanted to go out there and attack the zone and have them put it in play because we have gold all over this field. So I just wanted to let the defense do their thing, and they did and got it done.”

Griffin had his lone previous big league appearance at Comerica Park against Detroit. He threw 1 2/3 scoreless innings and allowed no hits nor walks and struck out one.

Although Friday night wasn’t Griffin’s first time in the Majors, it featured many firsts for him. Since his debut came during the season disrupted by COVID-19, he experienced pitching at Kauffman Stadium for the first time and in front of fans at a big league park.

“It was an emotional day, for sure. I didn’t sleep great last night,” Griffin said. “It was a blast, but you kind of zone it out once you get on the mound. It’s a weird thing to describe, but once I was done, I looked around and took it all in.”

Griffin threw six strikes and two balls while getting the heart of the Twins’ lineup out in order in the seventh inning. He made Byron Buxton line out to left field, Carlos Correa ground out to shortstop and Luis Arraez hit a flyout to center field. He was effective with his fastball, which hit up to 94.1 mph and got two hitters out with the pitch.

“All year for me, my fastball/cutter has been working well,” he said. “I’ve tried to get ahead early and stick with that. I went over some game-plan stuff and that fell right into it. I just tried to keep doing what I’ve been doing down in [Triple-A] Omaha.”

It’s been quite a journey for Griffin, a Royals first-round Draft pick in 2014. He has played in 169 Minor League games over his career and pitched nearly 800 innings. Most of those games were as a starting pitcher before he moved to the bullpen this season.

The 26-year old gave the Royals many reasons to select him from Triple-A. In 13 relief appearances this season, he’d given up only four earned runs (1.83 ERA). His command has been stellar, with four walks against 23 strikeouts in 19 2/3 innings.

“He pitched good, and we were able to get right back into the game,” manager Mike Matheny said. “It’s a big deal, and we talked about it pregame. For him to fight back from a surgery … because you just never know how it plays out.”

Griffin’s mix of the breaking ball and fastball are catching hitters by surprise and led to a perfect inning on Friday night against the leaders of the American League Central.

“The breaking ball has always been a wipeout pitch for him,” Matheny said. “It’s got above-average spin, and he locates his fastball well. You’ll see he’s very effective against right-handed batters because he uses both sides of the plate with his fastball.”

It’s a small sample size of two games, but in 2 2/3 innings in the Majors, Griffin has yet to allow a hit and looks comfortable on a big league mound.

“I was pretty determined to make this one a different outing,” Griffin said. “I wanted to leave with a smile on my face this time so it’s pretty surreal to see it come full circle like this.”