Potomac Cannons right-handed pitcher Jeff Austin said he thought we was a head case after several horrendous outings with the big league club in Cincinnati last May.
But the problem wasn't in Austin's head, it was in his shoulder. Unknown to Austin then, he had blown ligaments in his shoulder without feeling pain, leading to a loss of movement, control and speed of his pitches.
"I thought it was all mental, that you could put me in a category with guys like Mark Wohlers and Rick Ankiel, and all those guys that just couldn't throw strikes," Austin said. "It gave me a piece of mind that it was a physical thing, not something in my head."
After pitching well to start the 2003 season as a starter with the Reds, it appeared that Austin self-destructed in May after he failed to make it out of the first inning in consecutive starts. In his final start before being sent back to Class AAA Louisville, he became just the second pitcher in major league history to give up three home runs to start a game (San Francisco's Roger Mason was the other in 1987).
Austin tore his labrum in July 2003 with Louisville -- "it felt like someone stabbed me in the shoulder," he said -- and underwent surgery later that month. They repaired the labrum, his rotator cuff and his capsule, a collection of ligaments in the shoulder.
He has been rehabilitating ever since and pitched with the Gulf Coast League Reds beginning in June before joining the Cannons at the start August.
The Reds acquired Austin in the 2003 offseason from Kansas City. The Royals made him the fourth overall draft selection in 1998 following a stellar junior season at Stanford, where he earned NCAA player of the year honors. He said coming to the Reds has been welcome after the high expectations that weighed on him in the Royals organization.
"When I got to Cincinnati, I was kind of a novelty, and anything they got that was a positive from me was great" said Austin, now 27. "Cincinnati gave me a great opportunity, and I just want to get back to the point where I am an asset for the Reds."