Nick Tropeano stood in front of the third-base dugout at Yankee Stadium on Friday as his Los Angeles Angels teammates readied for batting practice. Looking into the stands, he pointed all around. “If I get to pitch here, that would be coming full circle,” the 27-year-old said.
Tropeano pitches in a six-man rotation crafted to keep burgeoning star Shohei Ohtani starting only once a week. The righthander, out of West Islip High School and Stony Brook University, pitched Thursday in Toronto and thus won’t get that chance on this trip.
“I got to pitch at Citi Field when I was called up to the Astros and it was tremendous,” he said of the final game of the 2014 season. “But Yankee Stadium? I remember coming [to the Bronx] as a kid with my dad — we tried to make every Sunday home game starting when I was 9 — and it’s unbelievable to be here, even when I’m not pitching.”
There was a time not long ago that Tropeano wasn’t pitching and it didn’t feel so good. He was traded by Houston to Los Angeles before the 2014 season and labored two hard seasons to earn a spot in the rotation, which he did in 2016. But he had elbow discomfort that July and was diagnosed with a torn UCL. He was 3-2 with a solid 3.56 ERA, but he was headed for Tommy John surgery.
“When you find out about that injury, it’s devastating. You can’t play and there’s a mental part, too, about whether you get back,” he said. “From the rehab perspective, the mental side was the hardest. You want to be out and competing and playing with your friends and helping the team win. But you’re not capable of it because, physically, it takes time to be ready.”
He missed the entire 2017 season but was ready to compete for a rotation spot this season. Spring training wasn’t always smooth and he didn’t break camp with the big-league club, but he got a shot in mid-April and threw 6 2⁄3 innings of scoreless ball at the Royals.
Tropeano earned a spot, but at the start of May, he had some shoulder discomfort that forced a 10-day stint on the disabled list. Now he seems to be regaining his form. He allowed one run in 7 1⁄3 innings in Toronto and is 2-3 with a 3.86 ERA.
“Nick is continuing to grow and improve as a pitcher. He’s recovered very well from the surgery,” Angels manager Mike Scioscia said. “Now it’s a matter of getting his stamina and elevating his pitch counts to where he can get deeper in the game and recover. And he’s shown he can do that, so we’re very excited about where he is.”
“Since the surgery, I have a better feel for my pitches because it was a focus in getting back,” Tropeano said.
He twice earned America East Pitcher of the Year honors with Stony Brook before the Astros took him in the fifth round of the 2011 draft. He watched his former teammates make a run to the College World Series the following year and has remained in close touch with one of that team’s stars, Travis Jankowski, who was a 2012 first-round pick and plays for the Padres.
“I rooted for him and all those guys in the College World Series and now we stay in close touch,” Tropeano said. “There’s a thing about Stony Brook: It’s sort of a small baseball community, but a really close one.
“I loved Stony Brook and West Islip and still stay tuned in. They are what led me to where I am, and you never forget about where you came from.”