Drayer: Mariners’ Ken Giles’ long path back to big leagues finally complete

Jun 22, 2022, 10:36 AM | Updated: 1:13 pm
Mariners Ken Giles...
Ken Giles throws a pitch for the Blue Jays in San Francisco on May 14, 2019. (Photo by Robert Reiners/Getty Images)
(Photo by Robert Reiners/Getty Images)

Tuesday afternoon in Oakland, Mariners reliever Ken Giles stood in the visitor’s dugout and fielded questions from the media about his imminent return after missing almost two seasons due to Tommy John surgery and a finger injury in spring training as he was preparing to return.

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He spoke of the work he got in on his rehab assignment in the minors, the patience it took to wait for the tendon in his finger to heal and anticipating taking the mound again.

“Hopefully I don’t fall over when I get to the mound,” he said with a slight laugh. “I’m just taking it in stride.”

Minutes later, he admitted in a pregame radio interview that there was more on his mind with his big league return finally at hand.

“A lot of nerves, a lot of anxiety right now going out there,” he said. “I went through what felt like a lot of stressful moments in my life the last year and a half. I thought the day would never come. Going under the knife and then a blink of the eye, I am back in Oakland getting to do the thing I love the most.”

The thing he loves to do the most is a thing that once caused him pain, and not the kind of pain that forced him to undergo the Tommy John surgery in 2020. On the afternoon of what did indeed turn out to be the day of his return to the bigs, it was clearly on his mind as he volunteered the story.

“I’m a guy that went through a very bad mental breakdown, and then I had to piece myself together and find out who I really was,” he said, alluding to an episode in 2018 where he punched himself in the face after surrendering a home run, blowing a save for the Astros in a gem pitched by Justin Verlander. “I’m a firm, firm believer on the mental side of the game, and it does carry more of the stress than it does the physical stress.”

The stresses were not limited to securing wins for a postseason-bound team.

“As you get older, you want to solidify yourself in the game for a long time and you want to make a living not just for yourself but your growing family,” he pointed out. “You want to be secure, you want to secure them for their future, but then you sometimes lose track of something when you are trying to perform so hard just to stay in the big leagues. It’s easy to get here and it’s hard to stay. I think guys just pressure themselves too much because they want to be that guy.”

Giles recognized that he needed help in handling the mental stresses that he encountered in the game, so he went to work with a mental skills coach. Through his work he realized that sometimes it was OK to not be “that guy” and just be himself.

“I think after my little stuff in Houston and my mental side just kind of breaking down, I just went there,” he said before taking a long pause. “I had to learn to turn it off. I had to turn off who I was on the field when I got off the field. I think just doing that benefited me because at the end of the day this is a job, but I want to enjoy my job because we can play baseball and make a very successful life out of that. I want to enjoy it, and when I go home I’m not Ken Giles the baseball player, I’m a husband, I’m a father of three, and that’s how I want to be remembered at my house.”

Giles’ wife and three kids were on hand in Oakland when he made his return. Before the game, Mariners manager Scott Servais said he would be careful in how Giles was brought back. While he had closed for playoff teams in the past, with Giles coming off surgery he would look for opportunities where the game was not on the line. A six-run lead in the ninth Tuesday night provided the perfect opportunity, and Giles sat the A’s down in order on 15 pitches, including 11 strikes.

Following the final out, an Elvis Andrus flyout to Julio RodrĂ­guez in center field, Giles put his head down and reflected for a moment before turning to receive a hug from catcher Cal Raleigh and congratulations from his Mariners teammates.

“It was great,” RodrĂ­guez said of Giles in his walkoff radio interview following the 8-2 win. “I have seen him a lot of times grinding, trying to get back into it, and finally seeing him back on the mound out there for the first time, I genuinely feel happy for him.”

Giles’ path remains to be seen, but it was a good start. Finally back in the big leagues, he is looking forward to contributing both on and off the field, leaning on experience gained through adversity.

“I never take a day for granted,” he said. “I try to enjoy myself more than I try to be too hard on myself. I want to enjoy my career and look back and be happy with what I did instead of looking back like I treated it more as a job than what I did as a little kid, enjoying the game and just having fun and competing. Going after the ultimate prize. which is a World Series playoff berth or anything like that. That’s my sense of pride, which I think is beneficial not just for me but I think anybody that can hear my advice with something like that I think it would be beneficial for them.”

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