By Nate Barnes
Contributor to CSNChicago.com
Scott Baker was selected in the 36th round of the 2000 MLB Draft by the Pittsburgh Pirates 13 years ago, but chose to play collegiate baseball at Oklahoma State. More than a decade later later, Baker makes his first career start against Pittsburgh and his second of 2013 after he returned from Tommy John surgery on Sunday.
In his first outing since 2011, Baker tossed five shutout innings against the Milwaukee Brewers and allowed just two hits and a walk. Tonight, manager Dale Sveum looks for some improvement.
“Hopefully it’s as good as the last one,” Sveum said. “He was very efficient, five shutout innings, a few hits, and hopefully stronger today.”
The most crucial aspect Sveum identified for Baker to improve in is with his velocity. In his 55-pitch outing against Milwaukee, Baker’s sinker topped out at 91 miles per hour, with his average pitch coming in around 88 miles per hour.
In addition, Baker’s changeup and slider hung between 80 and 81 miles per hour.
“We’ll see what happens,” Sveum said. “His velocity was OK the other day. We’ll see if he can add to that a little bit and go from there.”
What Sveum is not worried about, though, is elevating Baker’s pitch count any further after he threw just 55 pitches in Milwaukee.
“That’s not a concern at all,” Sveum said. “Not in September, and when you have plenty of arms in the bullpen.”
The Cubs brought Baker to the organization with a one-year deal last November, but his return from injury was delayed until Sunday when there were original possibilities of him returning as early as April or May. Baker underwent the Tommy John procedure on April 17, 2012.
Baker’s signing followed a seven-year stint in Minnesota, where he was drafted to in the second-round of the 2003 MLB Draft. Baker compiled a 63-48 record with the Twins, and proved himself a durable starter with three straight years in which he started at least 28 ballgames.
But in 2012, Baker was shut down in March with elbow tendinitis that later resulted in surgery a few weeks after he went on the 15-day Disabled List on March 31, 2012.
Nearly a year and a half later, Baker is playing for new contract in the limited time available in the final weeks of September -- whether that is in Chicago or elsewhere is yet to be determined. While he does that, Sveum won’t push Baker beyond his limits.
“We’re not out here for him to injure that thing or have a set-back or anything like that,” Sveum said. “It’s just a matter of him getting out on the mound and doing things for his own good as well as the organization’s.”