By Matt Leon
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) – Ryan Kulik was one of the top pitching prospects to ever emerge out of Cherokee High School and Rowan University. In 2008, the left-hander was taken by the St. Louis Cardinals in the 8th round of the MLB Draft. He quickly moved up the organizational ladder, getting as high as AAA in 2010, just a phone call away from every kid’s dream of pitching in the Major Leagues.
However, the next year the wheels would come off the wagon.
“I would say it happened in spring training of 2011,” Kulik tells KYW Newsradio. “I was just throwing and they kind of dropped me down a little bit sidearm, not all the way sidearm, but low three-quarters to try and get lefties out. I never threw that way before and started doing that, and I think that’s kind of where it happened.”
“It” was a torn ulnar collateral ligament in his elbow.
“My arm didn’t feel great,” Kulik says. “I didn’t think it was anything serious. I tried throwing through it, thought it was tendinitis and I just kept getting worse and worse. My velocity started dropping, my command was all over the place. I was hurt the whole time and didn’t know it.”
Kulik was released by the Cardinals and eventually had to undergo “Tommy John” surgery.
“It was not easy being out of baseball for almost two years,” Kulik says. “Rehabbing for a year-and-a-half, not knowing if I’m going to have a job. I just told myself everyday, just keep working hard and someone’s going to find me, someone’s going to take another shot on me. I went to a lot of different workouts with Major League teams, they all said they liked me, they just wanted to see me pitch somewhere else and obviously the Riversharks are giving me this opportunity now and I’m going to take full advantage of it.”
Kulik has spent the season in the Riversharks starting rotation, going 1-3 in seven starts with a 6.82 ERA. But when you’re working your way back from a significant surgery like Kulik is, sometimes you have to look past the numbers.
“Physically, I think he’s almost there,” Camden pitching coach Chris Widger tells KYW Newsradio. “Physically, he doesn’t hurt between starts, he’s not sore. He’s doing just like any other starter, every fifth day and he’s getting his work in in between. I think mentally, he’s getting there, he’s finally figured out how he used to throw and that’s what were trying to do. Now it’s just a matter of getting more consistent.”
Kulik says he is utilizing a full repertoire to try and get hitters out – a fastball that sits between 88-91, curveball, change-up, cutter and slider.
“Stuff wise he’s fine,” Widger says. “Stuff wise he should be out of here right now. I think the only reason he is here right now is getting that consistency back to where he can make the quality pitch over and over again.”
Kulik echoes Widger’s sentiments that finding consistency is key.
“Just trying to get comfortable again,” Kulik says. “Be able to repeat my delivery. That’s one thing I’m working on, just being able to repeat my delivery over and over again. To where I don’t have to think about it and just compete and go after every hitter. I feel once I can repeat my delivery, I’ll be back to where I was.”
So Kulik continues to chase that dream of pitching in the Major Leagues. But regardless of where this journey ends, one thing that is for sure is he is savoring the ride as he gets another chance to play pro ball.
“It’s awesome to play again,” Kulik says. “Not being able to play for two years, (to) not be with anybody, it was tough. It was not easy. I mean I knew in my heart I was going to play again, (but) it wasn’t set in stone that I was going to be given another opportunity. To be able to put on this uniform everyday, I take full advantage of it. I don’t take any day for granted. I play every day like it’s my last and I love being here.”
You can follow Matt on Twitter @mattleonkyw.