View from Studio 3: Eovaldi emerging from shadows
Young righty from Nolan Ryan's hometown is lighting up radar guns, too
"You got a gift. When you were a baby, the gods reached down and turned your right arm into a thunderbolt." - Crash Davis to Ebby Calvin Laloosh in "Bull Durham"
That line, uttered in the classic baseball movie, "Bull Durham," a quarter century ago, applies today when talking about Marlins pitcher Nathan Eovaldi. The similarities end there, however. Unlike Laloosh, Eovaldi is soft spoken, humble and keenly aware of the need for effective secondary pitches in order to succeed at the highest level. In real life, surviving as a starter in the Majors requires more than a quirky nickname and an average fastball velocity of 95.8 mph. Eovaldi has the latter. He entered the weekend ranked No. 3 in MLB among starters, with only Yordani Ventura (97.1) and Garrett Richards (95.9) placing higher.
The ugly reality, however, is that in today's game -- while we marvel at radar-gun readings -- we also hold our collective breaths when a young fireballer lets one fly. Pitchers are blowing out their elbows at an alarming rate way beyond the average from the last decade-plus. For Eovaldi, the popular 1990s saying, "been there, done that," is fitting. As a junior in high school, the righty underwent Tommy John surgery. It was a turning point in his life. It wasn't until he rehabbed from the procedure that he realized the potential of his physical gifts.
"I had scouts coming around to watch me and my bullpens after my recovery, and I was like, 'Wow, I can't even throw the ball really, and they're out there giving me a good look,'" said Eovaldi. "Before that, I didn't know much about the process of getting drafted and all that goes along with that. Our high school team was supposed to be really good, and I was just focused on trying to win [a Texas state championship]."
With Eovaldi officially on the scouts' radar, his mission was to remain healthy and re-learn everything he thought he knew about pitching mechanics.
"I was doing the wrong type of workouts for my arm," said Eovaldi. "I had terrible mechanics. After I had my Tommy John, it [was] a whole new world of learning the game and learning how to take care of yourself.
"Going through the process of recovering from Tommy John, I learned so much about the process of taking care of my arm."
It worked. Eovaldi was selected in the 11th round of the 2008 First-Year Player Draft by the Dodgers.
It's because of the mechanical and physical adjustments he made that Eovaldi isn't really scared about the growing number of pitchers who need a second reconstructive procedure. Guys have watched their careers go up in smoke with a single pitch.
Taking care of great expectations is a different story, since the bar is set high. In fact, it can't get much higher. Eovaldi comes from the same town and high school -- Alvin High School -- as the most famous strikeout pitcher of all-time, Hall of Famer Nolan Ryan.
"I got compared to him a lot, just because I was the only other guy drafted out of the same hometown," said Eovaldi. "People ask me if I've met him yet. It's an honor just to be compared to him."
While Eovaldi has never met Ryan in person, he received a signed baseball from the strikeout king that reads, "Good luck with your career." Eovaldi calls it "awesome."
Ryan is not the only star Eovaldi has been tied to early is his career. During the summer of 2012, he was traded from the Dodgers to the Marlins in the deal that sent Hanley Ramirez to Hollywood. Ramirez was the focal point and received the lion's share of the attention. The trade was part of the youth movement in Miami that has given fans hope for the future. Much of that hope is tied to young pitching. Yes, Eovaldi is a major part of a young, flame-throwing rotation. But the face of the staff and the team is Jose Fernandez.
Every step of the way, the immensely gifted and focused Eovaldi has yielded the attention to a bigger name. But he doesn't seem to care. His philosophy is simple. As simple as baseball itself, according to another famous line from "Bull Durham."
"This ... is a simple game. You throw the ball. You hit the ball. You catch the ball."
"I just love playing the game," said Eovaldi. "That's really all that matters. The attention will come when it comes. I'll deal with it then, but right now everything's been going great. I'm just taking it one day at time and focusing on what I need to do to give my team the best chance to win."
Matt Yallof is the co-host of The Rundown on MLB Network from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. ET. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.