NEW BRITAIN - It’s been a long road back for Jonathan Pettibone.
“I’m just excited to be here and just get going,” he said, sitting inside New Britain Stadium.
But to know where he plans to go, it is important to understand where he started.
It was back in 2013 when Pettibone received the call every minor leaguer dreams of - he was heading to majors, called up to join the Philadelphia Phillies. In his debut on April 22, Pettibone threw well, striking out six in 5 1/3 innings, earning a no decision in what would be a 3-2 loss to the Pittsburgh Pirates.
Pettibone remained in the rotation until July, going 5-4 with a 4.04 ERA in 100 1/3 innings over 18 starts before an enflamed rotator cuff prematurely ended his season. That was just the beginning.
The shoulder discomfort continued into the next season and he began the year in Triple-A. Pettibone ended up making two major league starts in 2014 before opting for shoulder surgery to repair a tear in the labrum, marking the second straight year his season was over earlier than it was supposed to.
“It was definitely tough,” Pettibone said.
After missing the entirety of 2015 recovering, he joined the Chicago Cubs for the 2016 spring training camp on a minor-league deal. He was ultimately released and spent the rest of the season rehabbing his shoulder in preparation for his next chance to showcase his abilities.
“You get in a new organization and you want to impress some guys and you end up rushing it,” Pettibone said of his time with the Cubs. “My arm wasn’t able to catch up and I don’t think my strength was back. They cut me loose and I thought it was best to take a few months off, and by that time, the season is almost over and I got geared up for this season.”
Still only 26, Pettibone now finds himself in New Britain, suiting up for the Bees, looking to show he is the same pitcher the Phillies called up back in 2013. The same one that was drafted in the third round back in 2008.
“I’m here to prove myself and prove that I’m healthy again and that I can still pitch,” Pettibone said. “Being away from the game for that long, it takes a toll not only on your body, but on your mental side. I’m just eager to get back.”
And his new manager, Stan Cliburn, knows, if everything gets back on track then Pettibone will end up where he ultimately wants to be.
“The pitchers know that if they put up numbers, they’ll be out of here by June 1,” Cliburn said. “The good ones in this league always are.”
But for now, Pettibone admits he is not looking that far ahead. He has not thrown against a live hitter in a live game in almost two years and is keeping his goals for 2017 rather simple, not wanting to set any kind of benchmarks such as innings pitched.
“Obviously the biggest [goal] is to continue to stay healthy and have a healthy season where I can show teams or whoever, ‘he’s back; he’s healthy again,’” Pettibone said. “I think that would be the biggest one and just get back to pitching. It’s been a long break. I still feel like I can pitch. At the same time, not throwing for two years, not everything is going to be pinpoint and sharp. There is going to be some rust to knock off.
“I feel great now. I would say 100 percent. I haven’t seen a hitter, so I can’t answer that I’m back to where I was. But right now, throwing and everything, I feel great.”
With the offseason over and the Bees’ season about to begin, for Pettibone, that first game out on the mound can’t come soon enough.
“I’m ecstatic. It’s been that long to where it’s time,” he said. “I’m ready.”