Sam Donnellon: A's pitcher Outman takes long way to the Bank

Josh Outman went to A's in Joe Blanton trade.
Josh Outman went to A's in Joe Blanton trade. (Associated Press)
Posted: June 24, 2011

NEW YORK - Gio Gonzalez, Carlos Carrasco, Josh Outman. Most teams would salivate for the chance to put those names at the top of their rotation, especially if they could drop in, say, a Gavin Floyd or maybe even a Kyle Drabek, once the kid straightens things out in Triple A, to round it out.

These are some of the young arms the Phillies traded away as they first became contenders, later champions and, in Carrasco's case, tried to repeat. Every one of them though was sent to an American League team, which is why Outman's return to Philadelphia this weekend will be unique.

When Outman takes the hill Sunday, he will be the first of the five to pitch on the Citizens Bank Park mound since their respective trades. Gonzalez, who started Oakland's 3-2, 13-inning loss to the Mets on Wednesday, will miss his chance by a day. Outman, who allowed one earned run over six innings of the Athletics' 7-3 victory Tuesday, is scheduled to go up against Roy Halladay.

"Obviously, the team you get drafted by is special," Outman, who was dealt to Oakland in the Joe Blanton trade in July 2008, said at his locker at Citi Field earlier this week. "I always imagined that when I made it to the major leagues, it would be as a Phillie. You learn, though, that some things you can't control."

Yep. Some of those lessons, like switching teams, are inconvenient - but not painful. By the time Blanton was pitching and hitting the Phillies to a commanding, 3-1 World Series lead, Outman, now 26, had been promoted to the bigs for Oakland and was a lock to start the next season in their rotation.

That made the World Series and subsequent parade "easy to watch," he said. "I was happy for the guys who were there that I knew."

Lou Marson, promoted in September, had been his catcher in stops at Lakewood, Clearwater, Reading. Outman roomed with Mike Zagurski. Kyle Kendrick was a friend.

"I was happy for those guys and the organization and the city," said Outman, who was selected by the Phillies in the 10th round of the 2005 draft. "I was pretty sure that I wasn't going to make that team, even in September. The way they were rolling, they weren't going to take any chances on pitchers coming in."

The cash-conscious A's had no choice. And their faith was rewarded the following spring. Outman was 4-1 with a 3.43 earned run average when he took the mound against the Padres on June 19, 2009. The lefthander left in the second inning after feeling a sharp pain in his pitching elbow.

Anyone even vaguely familiar with the phrase "Tommy John surgery" can fill you in on what happened next.

That season was lost. So was 2010. Complicating matters was that Outman was among the unlucky 15 percent who are missing the tendon in their non-pitching wrist that is transplanted to the elbow during the surgery.

"Lucky me," he said.

Instead, surgeons removed a tendon from his right hamstring to repair the elbow. "They told me your leg is going to hurt worse and longer than your elbow will," he said. "And it has."

Four hours before game time, Outman sat with his thigh wrapped in ice. Later, he would spend a good hour in the trainer's room, the price paid for increased velocity, for landing harder and harder on that right leg, for returning to the level he was at in June 2009.

"Especially now that my delivery is smoother and some of my power aspects are coming back, there's a lot of pain there," he said. "But you know what? I was warned. Sometimes, it takes a little extra to get it loose. It's one of those things that come with the territory. I always know it's there."

Next Thursday, he noted, will mark the 2-year anniversary of his surgery. Much has happened since - rehab, fatherhood, a frustrating spring training and a 2-month stint in the minors. But at 3-1 with a 2.86 ERA after Tuesday's win, Outman is in a good place, as his imagination finally becomes reality Sunday, even if it's not in the colors he originally conjured.

"It will be fun to get back there," he said. "To pitch in the place where, when I got drafted, I imagined being. And kind of take in the surroundings. I had a pretty good run in the minor leagues in Philadelphia. It will be kind of fun to get out there and see what the fan reaction will be, too. I felt I was always pretty well-liked in whatever minor leagues I was in, and they're all around there." *

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