Sean Nolin knows that the building blocks of a major-league career are still inside him – he just has to find a way to fuse them back together. Nolin, a Seaford native who made eight big-league appearances with the Blue Jays and A’s between 2013-2015, had Tommy John surgery in 2016 and has struggled to find his form since then.
Nolin missed two seasons with the injury and spent last year with the Rockies' Double-A affiliate, pitching to a 4.24 ERA in 29 appearances. After four lackluster starts with the White Sox's Double-A affiliate this season, Nolin was released on April 25 and signed with the Ducks on May 3 – hours before the team’s home opener.
“It’s been a long road since then,” said Nolin, thinking back to the arm surgery. “I’m trying to put everything back together. But, I feel like I still have potential to play . . . In spring training, things were definitely getting better, I just didn’t perform those last three weeks, so I was let go.”
Nolin earned his third Atlantic League win of the season Friday night when he allowed one run, seven hits, struck out six and walked none in five innings of the Ducks’ 5-2 win over the New Britain Bees. In four appearances with the Ducks, Nolin is 3-0 with a 1.69 ERA and 21 strikeouts in 16 innings.
“I’ve seen good presence on the mound,” Ducks manager Wally Backman said early in Nolin’s Ducks tenure.
Nolin said that he wants to work on mixing up his pitch selection and location, something he thinks will help him get back to affiliated ball.
“I always think it’s just location with fastballs and off-speed, maybe varying a pitch or throwing stuff in the dirt instead of trying to throw all strikes,” Nolin said. “Sometimes, you have to throw balls.”
Nolin, who graduated Seaford High School in 2008, was drafted three times, finally accepting a minor league deal with the Blue Jays after they took him out of San Jacinto College in Texas in the sixth round in 2010. Nolin became one of the top prospects in the Blue Jays system and made his major league debut in 2013.
Nolin only made two appearances with the Blue Jays, one in 2013 and one in 2014 before being traded to the A’s in 2014 in a package for Josh Donaldson. He made six starts with the A’s in 2015 and went 1-2 with a 5.28 ERA, and struck out 15 batters in 29 innings.
He was in spring training with the Brewers in 2016 when his career changed course.
“I was in spring training the whole time,” Nolin said. “My last outing, my elbow went.”
Tommy John rehab is usually an extended process, with pitchers missing between 12 and 16 months on average. But, after over two years, Nolin really had to fight off the rust.
“I don’t know if my body just needed to get back in the swing of things,” Nolin said. “My fast twitch muscles maybe got shut off for a little bit. I started to figure stuff out last year and this offseason it got better.”
Aside from the hiccup with the White Sox, Nolin said he feels like he’s on the way back. His goal, of course, is to return to the big leagues. But, first, he’ll spend some time living with his parents in Seaford while he looks to get right in Central Islip.
“Everyone’s here, so it’s a good thing,” he said on being home. “…For the situation I’m in, I’m definitely happy about it. I’m just going to keep putting in hard work, anything can happen.”
Duck-tested, Costas approved
Sportscaster Bob Costas, who grew up in Commack and was inducted into the Suffolk Sports Hall of Fame Thursday night, weighed in last week on the agreement between MLB and the Atlantic League that allows MLB to test experimental rules in the independent league in an effort to speed up the game and create more action.
“They have to do it,” said Costas in a phone interview with Newsday last week. “Baseball is supposed to have a pleasing, leisurely pace, which has been true for most of my life. But now, all too often, it has a lethargic pace. The ball’s not in play often enough. I don’t know if they can legislate anything that’s going to change that, because you have so many high velocity relievers coming in, knowing they only have to throw an inning and can let the throttle out. You have more strikeouts than hits now in the major leagues.”
Those experimental rules include a ban on non-pitching change mound visits (except in the case of a medical issue), a three-batter minimum for pitchers, and requiring two infielders to be on either side of second base when a pitch is released – effectively eliminating the shift.
“…Some make sense and some seem a little gimmicky,” Costas said. “But, various things they can do to try to get things moving along, I’m in favor of it….I’m in favor of the idea of experimenting at the lower minor-league level, where there’s less attention to it and they can evaluate it.”
Costas was inducted into the Suffolk Sports Hall of Fame at a ceremony at Watermill Caterers in Smithtown. Ducks founder/CEO Frank Boulton and owner Bud Harrelson are also members of the hall.