September 25, 2022
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Sea Dogs’ Michael Gettys reinvents his career on the mound

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In nine appearances since being promoted to Double-A Portland in July, Michael Gettys has yet to allow an earned run. He’s 2-0 with one hold and three saves, and a 0.96 WHIP. Photo courtesy of Portland Sea Dogs

Michael Gettys was in trouble, and it was his of own making.

Brought in to protect a one-run lead in the ninth inning at Hadlock Field last Thursday, the Portland Sea Dogs’ right-hander gave up back-to-back singles to open the inning, then hit a batter with two outs to allow the Richmond Flying Squirrels to load the bases.

It was the kind of dilemma Gettys had been prepared for over the first six seasons of his professional baseball career.

A former hitter, Gettys had been the guy in the batter’s box with the go-ahead run on base. He knew what pitch he’d want to see in that situation – and what pitch he wouldn’t. On a 3-2 count, Gettys threw a 94 mph fastball on the outside corner, freezing Richmond’s Brett Auerbach for a called strike to save the 6-5 victory.

That great escape was another piece of the development puzzle for Gettys, who began his career as a power-hitting outfield prospect in the San Diego Padres’ organization before pivoting to the mound last season with the Boston Red Sox. After starting this season in High-A Greenville, Gettys has been Portland’s most reliable relief pitcher since his mid-July call up.

In nine appearances with the Sea Dogs heading into this week’s series at Reading, the 26-year old Gettys has yet to allow an earned run. He’s 2-0 with one hold and three saves, including the Thursday afternoon thrill ride and a save in Sunday’s 10-7 victory over Richmond. In 9 1/3 innings for Portland, Gettys has four strikeouts and a 0.96 WHIP.

Gettys is learning how to pitch on the job, and he’s learning quickly.

“Each week I’m working on things. I think I can improve on everything. Obviously, I want to be as efficient as possible. I can make better pitches, I know that,” Gettys said last week. “You’re not really in control as the hitter. I like being in control as the pitcher. I’ve been learning this whole year.”

The 6-foot-1, 217-pound Gettys has three pitches. His fastball has topped out at 97 mph and is consistently in the 95-96 range, and is complemented by a curveball and a slider he’s begun to throw this season.

“He comes in, he’s been attacking the strike zone. I think the fact that he did play a position, he realizes it’s not that easy to hit. He goes right after hitters. The transition’s been pretty nice for him,” said Lance Carter, the Sea Dogs’ pitching coach.

Gettys said he’s working on a cutter as a fourth pitch. He’s comfortable throwing the other three in any count. The more tools you have the better, Gettys said, even if you don’t use them all.

“There’s a component that goes into it with your arm. You throw so much more than you’ve ever done before. It’s all just getting used to that,” Gettys said. “I think what really helps me is knowing how it is as a hitter. Guys who have never hit before, especially at this level, they don’t know what the hitter’s thinking. I do. I’ve failed, I’ve had success as a hitter, and all in between.”

Coming out of Gainesville High in Georgia in 2014, Gettys was high on the draft board of teams throughout Major League Baseball. An outfielder/pitcher, Gettys told every scout that sat in his family’s living room: Don’t draft me as a pitcher. I won’t go.

“I didn’t want to at the time. I just wanted to do hitting. They’re both hard to do, but say I went as a pitcher. It would be harder to not see pitching for years and try to hit. But I’m throwing all the time. I always took care of my arm. It’s easier to come back and do that,” Gettys said.

Picked in the second round 51st overall by San Diego, Gettys climbed through the Padres’ minor league system as a slugging outfielder, hitting 31 home runs and driving in 91 for Triple-A El Paso in 2019. When the 2020 minor league season was canceled because of the pandemic, Gettys felt like maybe he’d lost his shot at the big leagues.

“I didn’t play for that whole year. I’m a guy who needs to play, like continuously, in order to get better and get the reps. I don’t like taking significant time off. When you’re in Triple-A or the big leagues, it’s tough to take a year off, as opposed to rookie ball or college. That’s the best competition in the world,” Gettys said. “I think everybody has a timetable of when their time is to make it to the big leagues. They have that little window, and mine was 2019 and during COVID.”

Granted free agency on Nov. 2, 2020, Gettys signed with the Red Sox 15 days later. He began last season in Triple-A Worcester as an outfielder, but struggled at the plate, hitting .201 with five home runs and 14 RBI in 149 at-bats. A couple nagging injuries were a factor, along with the lost season. Gettys could feel his baseball career slipping away, and figured he could grab a firm hold on it again with his strong right arm.

Gettys approached the Red Sox about moving to the mound. Give it a shot, they said. For a while, Gettys continued to play the outfield for Worcester and get at-bats, all the while throwing in the bullpen. Late last season, the Red Sox sent Gettys to Fort Myers to pitch live games in the Florida Complex League. He appeared in five games with the Gulf Coast Red Sox last season, going 1-0 with a 3.60 ERA. Gettys remembers his first outing. Groundout, flyout, strikeout and out of the inning.

“I was very sore the next day. It felt uncomfortable and comfortable at the same time. It felt uncomfortable because I hadn’t done it in years, but it felt comfortable because I’m not fearful of it. I like the challenge,” Gettys said.

Prior to coming to Portland this season, Gettys was 2-1 with a 3.34 ERA in Greenville, with 23 strikeouts and seven walks in 29 2/3 innings.

In Greenville, Gettys was entering games in the middle innings, often pitching an inning or two as the bridge to the back of the bullpen. Lately in Portland, he’s been that late guy called on in tight situations to close the game. On Aug. 4-5, Gettys pitched on consecutive days for the first time, another milestone on his development checklist.

Stephen Scott caught Gettys in Greenville before both were promoted to the Sea Dogs. From behind the plate, Scott has seen Gettys’ improvement.

“I think he’s gaining a lot of confidence. That’s the biggest thing. It’s pretty fun to be a part of his journey,” Scott said. “His off-speed plays off of his fastball. He’s been working really hard on his slider, and that’s become a weapon for him later in counts. … Being a catcher, and learning how he sees and reads swings, is big for me and my development as well.”

For Gettys, the remainder of this season is all about getting that crucial experience.

“I think he’s still a work in progress, like everyone else, but his transition into pitching’s been pretty nice to see,” said Carter, the pitching coach. “I think he’s just got to get the experience. He’s a guy who played a position and got to a high level, but it’s different now that you’re on the mound.”


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