By John Bohnenkamp
It had been almost 15 months since Dylan King threw a pitch in a game.
King, an 18th-round pick of the Los Angeles Angels in last June’s Major League Baseball draft, didn’t pitch at all last season after tearing the UCL in his right elbow, an injury that required Tommy John surgery.
The rehabilitation process at the Angels’ training facility in Arizona, King said, didn’t seem like that long.
“For me, it flew by,” said King, who after two games with the Angels’ Rookie League team in Orem is now pitching for the Burlington Bees. “What made it seem longer was I was in the same place for so long. Getting here, and pitching now, it feels like a breeze.”
King, who played at Belmont University, injured his elbow in his first start in the 2018 season. King felt the injury in the first inning, but went on the pitch four more innings in the game.
“I knew I was hurt, because we had a radar on our scoreboard, and my velocity dropped about 10 miles per hour,” King said. “I thought my arm was just tight. It wasn’t like super-painful, but I knew something was wrong.
“It felt like it was a pull in my forearm area. Then my elbow locked up. I couldn’t put anything behind (my pitches). But I just kept throwing.”
King admitted he had some concerns when his injury was diagnosed, but he also knew of the success rate of comebacks from the surgery.
His goal was to pitch again, and he wasn’t even thinking about the draft that summer. Then the Angels selected him.
“I was just focused on getting my arm better for college the next year,” King said. “I was overjoyed, for sure. It was one of the best days.”
King went to Arizona and began work with the Angels’ RTP (Return to Performance) group. Other than a holiday break in December, when King went home to Tennessee, he stayed in Arizona.
“Getting back to playing, that’s been the fun part, the easy part,” King said. “All the rehab and stuff, you don’t want to go through it, but you have to. Now that I’m back playing, it was totally worth it.
“You have to be patient. You don’t throw for a lot of months. You’ve got to be patient, trust the trainers, trust the rehab, and you’ll get back to where you were.”
King started the season in extended spring training.
“My first game, it was weird,” he said. “It felt like I hadn’t pitched in three years. I got tired really quick.”
King pitched two games in Orem in mid-June, throwing 6 ⅔ innings with an 0-1 record. He allowed eight hits and struck out eight.
He was sent to Burlington on June 26, and has made two appearances. He didn’t allow a hit, walking two and striking out four, in three innings in a June 27 game at Quad Cities. He made his first appearance at Community Field in last Tuesday’s game against Cedar Rapids, allowing one earned run in four innings while striking out five.
“He was locating his fastball at the top of the (strike) zone, and they were chasing,” Bees manager Jack Howell said after the Cedar Rapids game. “And he was landing his breaking ball for strikes. It sounds basic, but if you can do that consistently, you’re going to be successful.”
King is a piggyback starter, which means a different routine than what he was used to in college, where he was a Friday starter and threw one bullpen session for the week.
“Now, it’s every five days,” he said. “I like that. I like being out there more. I feel like I’m more in tune with pitching. And I like it better.”
It didn’t take long for Bees reliever Tyler Smith to get through the eighth inning in Friday’s game at Cedar Rapids.
Smith pitched an “immaculate inning” — nine pitches, three strikeouts.
Ricky De La Torre, the leadoff hitter in the inning, was the only hitter of the three to actually get a piece of a pitch — he fouled off the first pitch of the at-bat. He then went down on two swinging strikes.
Yeltsin Encarnacion, the next hitter, struck out on three called strikes.
Daniel Ozoria took two called strikes before a swinging third strike.
There have been 98 immaculate innings in the history of Major League Baseball, but it is unclear how many there have been in the minors.
Adrian De Horta had an immaculate inning earlier this season for the Angels’ Double-A team in Mobile.
THE NAME GAME
Sunday’s game between the Bees and Peoria Chiefs featured some unusual name combinations.
• Bees starting pitcher Robinson Pina pitched to catcher Keinner Pina.
• Parker Joe Robinson entered the game in relief of Robinson Pina.
• Parker Joe Robinson pitched the top of the eighth inning, Peoria’s Parker Kelly pitched the bottom of the inning.
Jo Adell (2018) went 1-for-2 for the American League in Sunday’s Futures Game.
Adell, the top-ranked prospect in the Angels’ organization and the No. 4 overall prospect according to MLB.com, walked twice and scored a run.
THE WEEK THAT WAS
Batting average: .231
Opponents’ average: .190
Opponents’ ERA: 3.25
Notes: Jordyn Adams was on base all five times in Sunday’s 5-3 win over Peoria — two singles, a double, and two walks. … Nonie Williams has a seven-game on-base streak. … Kevin Maitan has a four-game hitting streak (.353). … Bees’ starting pitchers had a 2.41 ERA during the week. The relievers had a 1.85 ERA.
THE WEEK AHEAD
• Fort Wayne (6:30 p.m. Wednesday-Friday) — After Tuesday’s off day, the Bees begin a two-week swing against Eastern Division teams. The TinCaps (39-46 overall, 6-11 second half) feature the league’s top hitter, Xavier Edwards. Edwards, ranked No. 8 among the San Diego Padres’ prospects by MLB.com, leads the league in average (.336) and hits (103) and is third in on-base percentage (.392).
• Lake County (6:30 p.m. Saturday and Monday, 2 p.m. Sunday) — The Captains (50-36 overall, 10-7 second half) were a first-half playoff qualifier in the Eastern Division. Catcher Bo Naylor is ranked the No. 4 prospect in the Cleveland Indians organization, while pitcher Luis Oviedo is the No. 8 prospect.
Hector Yan leads the Midwest League in strikeouts with 98. Robinson Pina is fourth with 87. … Williams is seventh in the league with 45 walks.
Photo: Dylan King throws a pitch in last Tuesday’s game against Cedar Rapids at Community Field. Steve Cirinna/Burlington Bees