Twins

Brock Stewart Became Minnesota's Biggest Steal

Photo Credit: Jesse Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

The problematic thing about tendonitis is that it hides in the shadows. Brock Stewart never experienced a setback and often felt fine while throwing his rehab bullpens. But the pain lingered, stinging him the day after he pitched. It was enough to sap his velocity. Enough that Stewart couldn’t continue his dream season. So there he was day after day, rehabbing, trying to recover, waiting for the pain to go away. A 31-year-old was having a breakout season after being out of MLB since 2019. Suddenly, relentless pain put it on hold.

Stewart signed a two-year minor-league deal with the Minnesota Twins in 2022. He pitched 11 games at three levels – rookie ball, High-A, and Triple-A – finishing the year with a 7.71 ERA. He started last year at Triple-A, pitching 17 strikeouts in 8.2 innings with St. Paul. On April 25, the Twins selected his contract, placing him on the active roster. Stewart pitched 25.2 innings from April 27 to June 27 and recorded a 0.70 ERA.

“It is a different me, and it feels good,” Stewart said in May. “It feels really good. Early on in my Dodger career, I had some success, and then the last couple of years were pretty tough on me. My stuff wasn’t as good, and my velo was down. Just to kind of show them that I could still do it, and kind of better than I ever have done it, it was a cool moment for me.”

Opposing batters hit .172/.273/.253 off Stewart. He only gave up 15 hits and one home run in 25 games. He owned a 2.44 FIP, and he had over a 600 ERA+. Stewart had never experienced this kind of success. The Los Angeles Dodgers took him out of Illinois State in the sixth round of the 2014 draft, and he pitched four years in LA, owning a 5.46 ERA. The Dodgers waved Stewart in 2019, and the Toronto Blue Jays picked him up. However, they outright waived him after he produced an 8.31 ERA in 21.2 innings.

In December 2019, the Chicago Cubs picked Stewart in the minor-league Rule 5 draft. Stewart grew up and went to college in Normal, Ill., but he never played a game for Chicago. Major League Baseball canceled the minor-league season because of the pandemic, and the Cubs released him in May 2020. Stewart spent the rest of the year playing independent ball in Chicago.

The Dodgers signed him again in December 2020. However, he tore an elbow ligament and underwent Tommy John surgery in May 2021. After recovering, he felt pain from a bone spur he thought the doctors should have removed during the operation. “It was just really frustrating,” he said in October, reflecting on the moment. “I was a minor-league free agent, hadn’t pitched in pro ball for a couple years, and had pain in my elbow after TJ. All of that was in my head. I didn’t know what I had left.”

He discussed retirement with his wife, Christina, and other family members. “They basically told me to just go with my gut, follow my heart,” said Stewart, who had surgery to remove the bone spur in March 2022. “That’s what I did. I didn’t want 2019 to be the last you saw of Brock Stewart in pro ball just because it wasn’t a very good sample. I had a bitter taste in my mouth from that, so I really wanted to get back.”

The Twins signed Stewart to a two-year minor-league contract to allow him to rehab. It was a low-risk deal, but they believed in his upside. Stewart joined Jhoan Duran, Griffin Jax, and Caleb Thielbar as Minnesota’s most reliable relievers in the regular season. Aside from the flamethrowing Duran, Stewart may have been their best relief pitcher. Naturally, the Twins expected a setback when Stewart felt pain in his elbow. But they didn’t expect him to be out for a long time.

“It looks like Brock is dealing with some tendinitis,” Rocco Baldelli said in late June. “That’s the initial read from the trainers and the doctors that have taken a look at him. I feel like there is a reasonable chance that we headed off this issue, and hopefully, he won’t be down for too long, which is somewhat good news.”

But June turned into July, July into August, and August into September. Stewart continued to rehab, continued to throw bullpens, and continued to feel lingering pain. He sometimes grew frustrated but stayed sane by reminding himself to be grateful. He was back in the big leagues, pitching at his best – a stalwart in Minnesota’s bullpen.

In September, he discovered that he could relieve the pain by flossing the ligaments in his elbow. By holding his hand in a fist above his shoulder and moving his forearm up and down and side to side, he started to recover from tendonitis. On September 26, he threw a scoreless inning against the Oakland Athletics. He made two more scoreless relief appearances in Colorado and pitched three innings in the playoffs. A career 4.93 ERA pitcher finished the year with a 0.65 ERA (666 ERA+), 2.21 FIP, and 1.084 WHIP.

Stewart said he naturally felt frustrated sometimes, not knowing when he’d be able to pitch again this year. But he kept things in perspective. He was back in the big leagues, pitching better than ever. The Twins needed him, given how shaky the bullpen was at times. And fortunately, they will for a while. They have Stewart under contract until 2028, given he only has a little over a year of service time. He has taken the long road to where he is now. But he made his way back and looks like he’s here to stay.

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