Two years ago Buddy Baumann was riding high. The left-handed reliever was back in the majors for the second year in a row, and putting up good numbers with the San Diego Padres.
But baseball, much like life, can throw you a curveball. By February of this year he was out a job. With a two-year-old son and pregnant wife at home, Baumann was debating between continuing his career or moving on to life’s next chapter.
“I was like, ‘You know what? I have to do this,’” he said. “So I’ll go to the best place where I can get picked up.’ And that was here.”
Here is Lancaster. In the independent Atlantic League, where the 5-foot-10, 31-year-old 11th-year pro has performed quite well with the Barnstormers. And he’s done so as a full-time starting pitcher, a role he last assumed in 2009, when he was the Missouri Valley Conference Pitcher of the Year for Missouri State University.
Using a fastball that mostly tops out in the high 80s, along with a curve ball and a breaking ball that Baumann said helped him reach the majors, the lefty’s 80 strikeouts through 14 starts are the third-most in the Atlantic League. Three times Baumann has tossed a complete game. Seven times he’s notched a quality start (at least six innings pitched, no more than three earned runs allowed).
And before you judge his 4.02 ERA, consider that Baumann has had only two bad starts on May 25 and July 1 in which he gave up a combined 13 earned runs in 8.2 innings of work. Take those away and Buamann’s ERA is 2.95 in 12 other starts. To put that in context, of Atlantic League starting pitchers, only four have an ERA under 3.00.
In other words, Baumann has been mostly stellar on the mound. A seventh-round draft pick of the Kansas City Royals in 2009, Baumann expected to get picked up in June. It hasn’t happened yet. But it could be a matter of time.
And would add to a journey that’s been up and down since the start of the 2017 season, when he found himself on the pavement on a parking lot in Arizona.
'I can't lift my arm'
Back then Baumann was in spring training with the San Diego Padres. He was coming off an outstanding big league debut the year before with a 3.72 ERA in 11 relief spots in 2016.
“The next year in spring training it looked like I was going to break with the (big league) team,” Baumann said. “I always rode my bike to the stadium. I was leaving the stadium one day. The tire blew.”
Baumann landed on his left throwing shoulder. He got to his feet but was in pain. He turned around and returned to the Peoria Sports Complex in Arizona and approached the Padres’ athletic trainer.
“I can’t lift my arm right now,” he said.
A few weeks later the Padres put Baumann on the 10-day disabled list. A month later he was put on the 60-day disabled list.
But Baumann made it back. By August he was in the majors again, and doing even better. He gathered a 2.55 ERA and 21 strikeouts in 23 games.
The injury woes were behind him. Or so he thought.
In four relief appearances split between the Padres and Mets last season, Baumann gave up 10 runs in three innings of work. He spent the last three months of the 2018 campaign on and off the disabled list.
“I was trying to get through it,” Baumann said. “I was pressing really hard. Other things were just going wrong. A little bit of tendonitis here, impingement there. It was one of those years.”
Focused on his work
Mostly used as a relief pitcher the previous seven seasons, Baumann came to Lancaster to be a starting pitcher in hopes it would better his chances of getting picked up.
“I want to have the versatility,” he said. “If a team needs a starter or a reliever they know I can take on either of those roles.”
Two ‘Stormers players have been signed by big league clubs this season. Baumann could join that list before the season is out. Yet, five months ago he thought this might be the end.
“I learned something really good when I was in triple-A for three years with the Royals,” Baumann said. “I was putting up numbers. And I’m thinking ‘Am I ever going to be given a shot?’ And it got to a point where I had it in my head that what you’re focused on is your work. You always have your work. And so as long as I can put a jersey on and work I’m happy. I’ll let the chips fall where they may.”